Commentary Magazine


Topic: law-enforcement

Reading The Longest War

Normally, I like a hanging judge, and I am certainly a big fan of Michael Mukasey, the esteemed former federal judge and attorney general. He is one of the most reasonable, learned, and authoritative voices around on most matters relating to the law — and especially on the war on terror with which he has been closely connected ever since he sentenced the “blind sheikh” to life in prison in 1996. Yet I can’t help but conclude that his review of Peter Bergen’s The Longest War in the Wall Street Journal metes out a harsher verdict than the book deserves.

Having read the book myself — and having interviewed Bergen about it for an upcoming episode of C-SPAN’s Afterwords — I agree with many of Mukasey’s specific criticisms. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he makes withering criticisms of Guantanamo and the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques on the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he criticizes “renditions” of terrorists and when he claims (in words not quoted by Mukasey) that “by any rational standard” Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “did not pose a real threat to the United States.” The last is a particularly puzzling statement considering that Saddam Hussein had invaded his neighbors twice, schemed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and had already sparked one war with the United States and numerous lesser military actions.

But by focusing on these dubious assertions, Mukasey gives the impression that Bergen’s book is an anti-Bush screed along the lines of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. It isn’t. It’s actually a fairly balanced account of the past decade’s fight against al-Qaeda. Read More

Normally, I like a hanging judge, and I am certainly a big fan of Michael Mukasey, the esteemed former federal judge and attorney general. He is one of the most reasonable, learned, and authoritative voices around on most matters relating to the law — and especially on the war on terror with which he has been closely connected ever since he sentenced the “blind sheikh” to life in prison in 1996. Yet I can’t help but conclude that his review of Peter Bergen’s The Longest War in the Wall Street Journal metes out a harsher verdict than the book deserves.

Having read the book myself — and having interviewed Bergen about it for an upcoming episode of C-SPAN’s Afterwords — I agree with many of Mukasey’s specific criticisms. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he makes withering criticisms of Guantanamo and the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques on the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he criticizes “renditions” of terrorists and when he claims (in words not quoted by Mukasey) that “by any rational standard” Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “did not pose a real threat to the United States.” The last is a particularly puzzling statement considering that Saddam Hussein had invaded his neighbors twice, schemed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and had already sparked one war with the United States and numerous lesser military actions.

But by focusing on these dubious assertions, Mukasey gives the impression that Bergen’s book is an anti-Bush screed along the lines of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. It isn’t. It’s actually a fairly balanced account of the past decade’s fight against al-Qaeda.

In the first place, many of the criticisms Bergen offers are on the money — for instance, about the failure of the Bush administration to send more troops to trap Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora and about the failure to prepare for the post-invasion phase of the Iraq war. Both assertions should, by now, be fairly uncontroversial even in conservative circles. For that matter, I think Bergen is convincing in arguing that no tangible links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda have been uncovered and that mainstream Islam has rejected al-Qaeda — both assertions that Mukasey questions.

In the second place, Bergen also offers praise for Bush that Mukasey doesn’t quote. He writes, for example, “There is little doubt that some of the measures the Bush administration and Congress took after 9/11 made Americans safer.” Among the positives he cites are the Patriot Act and other enhanced security measures.

Bergen also endorses Bush’s decision to  attack al-Qaeda with the full weight of the U.S. military — not just with law enforcement and intelligence agencies. This led the Economist to criticize Bergen’s book for dismissing “the view of some Europeans that al-Qaeda is essentially a law and order problem—more or less arguing, with odd logic, that since it declared war on America, then America must be at war.”

Unlike Michael Scheuer, the eccentric former CIA analyst whose new book about Osama bin Laden is also reviewed by Mukasey, Bergen does not think that Bush fell into a trap by sending troops into Afghanistan. Although bin Laden has talked about how he was luring America into a guerrilla war, Bergen concludes that this is largely an ex post facto justification and that the invasion of Afghanistan actually did significant damage to al-Qaeda. Moreover, unlike many of those who backed the initial decision to intervene, he strongly supports the current war effort in Afghanistan. Indeed Bergen and I teamed up at an Intelligence Squared US debate not long ago to argue that Afghanistan isn’t a lost cause.

In short, I think Mukasey is being harder on Bergen than the facts of the case warrant. But judge for yourself — read the book and watch my interview with Bergen in which I press him on some of the very points that Mukasey raises.

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Thinking Deeply About Government’s Purpose, Not Just Its Size

My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, who is also editor of National Affairs, was interviewed by ConservativeHome’s Ryan Streeter. Yuval’s insights are typically wise and learned. I was particularly interested in his response to the question “If you could wave a wand and change one thing about the GOP, what would it be?” According to Yuval:

I would make it so that every time we are tempted to talk about the size of government we talk also (and more so) about the purpose of government. This would make us more focused on policy particulars than on vague abstractions, better able to offer an alternative to the left’s agenda rather than just slowing the pace of its implementation, and better able to speak to the aspirations of the larger public.

The out-of-control size and cost of government today are symptoms of the fact that we have lost sight of the question of what government is for. The answer to that question is not “nothing,” after all. But it is also not “everything.” A basic answer to that question, rather, is laid out pretty well in Article I, section 8 of the United States Constitution. Maybe modern life has piled some complexities and difficulties on us that require some additions to the list presented there, and of course the Constitution contains a mechanism for making such additions. But as long as we are obsessed with how much it all costs we are not able to focus on the more important question of how to make government more effective and energetic in those areas where we want it to act, and how to keep it from acting in those areas where we don’t (and where we therefore think that families, communities, and other mediating institutions should act instead).

This counsel is extremely wise. It is not as if the size of government is irrelevant; far from it. There are important fiscal and moral ramifications created by a “nanny state.” But to focus solely on the size of government rather than on its core purposes is a mistake, both philosophically and politically. God willed the state, as Edmund Burke put it; but what does He want the state to achieve? This is hardly a new question, but it is one that every serious student of politics needs to engage.

As a practical matter, take the issue of order. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist Paper No. 3, “that of providing for their safety seems to be the first.” The “tranquility of order” (the phrase comes from Augustine) is the first responsibility of government; without it, we can hardly expect things like justice, prosperity, or virtue to flourish. Order, in turn, cannot be achieved without government — and among the threats to domestic order, crime surely ranks high. Read More

My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, who is also editor of National Affairs, was interviewed by ConservativeHome’s Ryan Streeter. Yuval’s insights are typically wise and learned. I was particularly interested in his response to the question “If you could wave a wand and change one thing about the GOP, what would it be?” According to Yuval:

I would make it so that every time we are tempted to talk about the size of government we talk also (and more so) about the purpose of government. This would make us more focused on policy particulars than on vague abstractions, better able to offer an alternative to the left’s agenda rather than just slowing the pace of its implementation, and better able to speak to the aspirations of the larger public.

The out-of-control size and cost of government today are symptoms of the fact that we have lost sight of the question of what government is for. The answer to that question is not “nothing,” after all. But it is also not “everything.” A basic answer to that question, rather, is laid out pretty well in Article I, section 8 of the United States Constitution. Maybe modern life has piled some complexities and difficulties on us that require some additions to the list presented there, and of course the Constitution contains a mechanism for making such additions. But as long as we are obsessed with how much it all costs we are not able to focus on the more important question of how to make government more effective and energetic in those areas where we want it to act, and how to keep it from acting in those areas where we don’t (and where we therefore think that families, communities, and other mediating institutions should act instead).

This counsel is extremely wise. It is not as if the size of government is irrelevant; far from it. There are important fiscal and moral ramifications created by a “nanny state.” But to focus solely on the size of government rather than on its core purposes is a mistake, both philosophically and politically. God willed the state, as Edmund Burke put it; but what does He want the state to achieve? This is hardly a new question, but it is one that every serious student of politics needs to engage.

As a practical matter, take the issue of order. “Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention,” John Jay wrote in Federalist Paper No. 3, “that of providing for their safety seems to be the first.” The “tranquility of order” (the phrase comes from Augustine) is the first responsibility of government; without it, we can hardly expect things like justice, prosperity, or virtue to flourish. Order, in turn, cannot be achieved without government — and among the threats to domestic order, crime surely ranks high.

This line of reasoning inevitably leads us to law-enforcement policies ranging from incarceration to policing strategies to the “broken windows” theory. (In the 1980s, Professors James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling argued that public disorder — as evidenced by unrepaired broken windows — is evidence of a permissive moral environment, a signal that no one cares, and therefore acts as a magnet to criminals.) And in looking at some of the great success stories in lowering crime, such as New York City in the 1990s, one finds that the key to success wasn’t the size or cost of government, but its efficacy. The question Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his police chief, William Bratton, asked wasn’t “How big should the police department be?” but rather “What should the police department be doing?”

The answer to that question led to a policy revolution in law enforcement.

The point is that fundamental questions about the role and purpose of the state aren’t academic ones; a public philosophy needs to be at the center of our debates about public policy, and we need public figures who themselves are able to think clearly and deeply about these matters.

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The Policies That Keep Us Safe

The foiled package-bomb plot originating in Yemen is the latest sign of how determined Islamist extremists remain in trying to strike the United States. Just in the past year, we have seen the shooting at Fort Hood, which left 13 people dead; an attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner with explosives hidden in underwear; an attempt to set off an explosion in Times Square with explosives hidden in a vehicle; and the arrest of a suspect accused of plotting to attack the Washington subway. These attacks serve as a reminder, as Andy McCarthy notes, that our homeland remains very much in danger. So why isn’t terrorism more of an election issue? Largely because this is an area where there is — mercifully — a high degree of bipartisan agreement.

That hasn’t always been the case. Barack Obama ran for president not only pledging to pull out of Iraq but also to end what he viewed as the abuses of George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” The very term “war on terror” has been banished from the Obama administration’s lexicon, but luckily, most of the practices instituted by Bush have been continued.

Obama, recall, promised to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, to try terrorists in civilian courts, to end “renditions” of terrorist suspects, to end torture, and to end or severely curtail warrantless wiretaps. What has he actually done?

He has limited the use of interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects — but they had already been curtailed by Bush, who banned the use of most “stress techniques” in his second term. But Obama hasn’t closed Gitmo, largely because of overwhelming congressional opposition. His plan to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court came to naught. The military commissions are still in business. Suspected terrorists continue to be  held without trial, not only at Gitmo but also in the Parwan detention facility in Afghanistan. He signed an extension of the Patriot Act, which provides most of the surveillance authorities instituted after 9/11. Renditions continue. And Obama has actually stepped up the use of drone strikes to kill terrorists, especially but not exclusively in Pakistan. He has even placed an American citizen (Anwar al-Aliki, a leader of al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch) on the list for elimination without any judicial overview. Finally, he has essentially continued the Bush policy of drawing down slowly in Iraq while building up our forces in Afghanistan.

Thus Obama has, in most important respects, essentially ratified the post-9/11 measures instituted by the Bush administration. He has not instituted a “law enforcement” approach to terrorism, as was feared by so many of his critics and expected by so many of his supporters. A Republican president might approve harsher interrogation techniques or make some other changes at the margins, but I doubt that anything very substantial will change no matter who succeeds Obama — unless there is some horrific new attack on American soil, in which case the balance will swing even more against civil liberties.

Just as we have a wide degree of agreement now on how to fight terrorism at home, so we have bipartisan uncertainty about how to fight it in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. No one seriously suggests invading them barring another 9/11. The debate is mainly about how much and what kind of aid we should give to the governments in question, how much we can trust them to act on our behalf, and how many unilateral strikes we should carry out. These are not ideological questions; they are tough judgment calls on which experts of all stripes can disagree.

Obama, to his credit, hasn’t hesitated to approve drone strikes and other covert actions against terrorists in places like Somalia and Yemen, but there is a limit to what such measures can do. Defeating the terrorists who hide in these unstable areas requires improving their level of governance — a difficult, long-term project that we are attempting to undertake but without any great prospects of immediate success.

More than nine years after 9/11, we have made great strides in countering terrorism, especially in toughening up domestic security, increasing intelligence-gathering, and lowering barriers between law enforcement and intelligence. We still have more to do domestically — for instance, the latest plots highlight the need for better inspection of cargo. And there is much more to do abroad to try to root al-Qaeda out of its foreign bastions. But the greatest progress we have made is to reach a high degree of domestic consensus about what it takes to fight terrorism.

Give Obama credit for breaking his campaign pledges and essentially adopting the Bush approach. And of course, give Bush credit for weathering years of abuse from Senator Obama and other critics to hang tough and institute policies that have helped keep us safe.

The foiled package-bomb plot originating in Yemen is the latest sign of how determined Islamist extremists remain in trying to strike the United States. Just in the past year, we have seen the shooting at Fort Hood, which left 13 people dead; an attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner with explosives hidden in underwear; an attempt to set off an explosion in Times Square with explosives hidden in a vehicle; and the arrest of a suspect accused of plotting to attack the Washington subway. These attacks serve as a reminder, as Andy McCarthy notes, that our homeland remains very much in danger. So why isn’t terrorism more of an election issue? Largely because this is an area where there is — mercifully — a high degree of bipartisan agreement.

That hasn’t always been the case. Barack Obama ran for president not only pledging to pull out of Iraq but also to end what he viewed as the abuses of George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” The very term “war on terror” has been banished from the Obama administration’s lexicon, but luckily, most of the practices instituted by Bush have been continued.

Obama, recall, promised to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, to try terrorists in civilian courts, to end “renditions” of terrorist suspects, to end torture, and to end or severely curtail warrantless wiretaps. What has he actually done?

He has limited the use of interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects — but they had already been curtailed by Bush, who banned the use of most “stress techniques” in his second term. But Obama hasn’t closed Gitmo, largely because of overwhelming congressional opposition. His plan to try Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in a civilian court came to naught. The military commissions are still in business. Suspected terrorists continue to be  held without trial, not only at Gitmo but also in the Parwan detention facility in Afghanistan. He signed an extension of the Patriot Act, which provides most of the surveillance authorities instituted after 9/11. Renditions continue. And Obama has actually stepped up the use of drone strikes to kill terrorists, especially but not exclusively in Pakistan. He has even placed an American citizen (Anwar al-Aliki, a leader of al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch) on the list for elimination without any judicial overview. Finally, he has essentially continued the Bush policy of drawing down slowly in Iraq while building up our forces in Afghanistan.

Thus Obama has, in most important respects, essentially ratified the post-9/11 measures instituted by the Bush administration. He has not instituted a “law enforcement” approach to terrorism, as was feared by so many of his critics and expected by so many of his supporters. A Republican president might approve harsher interrogation techniques or make some other changes at the margins, but I doubt that anything very substantial will change no matter who succeeds Obama — unless there is some horrific new attack on American soil, in which case the balance will swing even more against civil liberties.

Just as we have a wide degree of agreement now on how to fight terrorism at home, so we have bipartisan uncertainty about how to fight it in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. No one seriously suggests invading them barring another 9/11. The debate is mainly about how much and what kind of aid we should give to the governments in question, how much we can trust them to act on our behalf, and how many unilateral strikes we should carry out. These are not ideological questions; they are tough judgment calls on which experts of all stripes can disagree.

Obama, to his credit, hasn’t hesitated to approve drone strikes and other covert actions against terrorists in places like Somalia and Yemen, but there is a limit to what such measures can do. Defeating the terrorists who hide in these unstable areas requires improving their level of governance — a difficult, long-term project that we are attempting to undertake but without any great prospects of immediate success.

More than nine years after 9/11, we have made great strides in countering terrorism, especially in toughening up domestic security, increasing intelligence-gathering, and lowering barriers between law enforcement and intelligence. We still have more to do domestically — for instance, the latest plots highlight the need for better inspection of cargo. And there is much more to do abroad to try to root al-Qaeda out of its foreign bastions. But the greatest progress we have made is to reach a high degree of domestic consensus about what it takes to fight terrorism.

Give Obama credit for breaking his campaign pledges and essentially adopting the Bush approach. And of course, give Bush credit for weathering years of abuse from Senator Obama and other critics to hang tough and institute policies that have helped keep us safe.

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Investigating Mahmoud Karzai

It’s good to read that federal prosecutors in New York are investigating Mahmoud Karzai, President Hamid Karzai’s brother, who, like his siblings, became an instant millionaire when his brother took power. Mahmoud is actually a U.S. citizen, so he is especially vulnerable to American law enforcement. But I have a question and a caveat to offer.

First, I don’t understand why the New York Times is reporting that the NSA is wiretapping Mahmoud. NSA surveillance is one of the most closely held secrets in the U.S. government, so why was it leaked? Possibly to put pressure on Mahmoud, but, if anything, it simply alerts him to be more discreet in his communications. Perhaps someone more savvy in the ways of law enforcement can tell me what’s going on with the leak.

Now the caveat: the goal should not be to throw Mahmoud into jail. The goal should be to apply leverage on his brother, the president, to help clean up Afghan politics. Investigating Mahmoud is a great way to pressure his brother, but actually indicting him and trying to convict him could backfire by making Hamid more intransigent. It is vitally important that this criminal probe be coordinated at the highest levels of the administration with General Petraeus’s headquarters and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to make sure that all the U.S. government actors are on the same page here. Unfortunately, given the Justice Department’s tradition of independence, I suspect that kind of coordination to only happen at the cabinet or even presidential level. Prosecutions, in general, should be made strictly on the merits of the case, but this is a case that is intimately wrapped up with an American war effort in which 100,000 American lives are at risk. Therefore, ordinary law-enforcement concerns need to be subordinated to larger strategic imperatives.

It’s good to read that federal prosecutors in New York are investigating Mahmoud Karzai, President Hamid Karzai’s brother, who, like his siblings, became an instant millionaire when his brother took power. Mahmoud is actually a U.S. citizen, so he is especially vulnerable to American law enforcement. But I have a question and a caveat to offer.

First, I don’t understand why the New York Times is reporting that the NSA is wiretapping Mahmoud. NSA surveillance is one of the most closely held secrets in the U.S. government, so why was it leaked? Possibly to put pressure on Mahmoud, but, if anything, it simply alerts him to be more discreet in his communications. Perhaps someone more savvy in the ways of law enforcement can tell me what’s going on with the leak.

Now the caveat: the goal should not be to throw Mahmoud into jail. The goal should be to apply leverage on his brother, the president, to help clean up Afghan politics. Investigating Mahmoud is a great way to pressure his brother, but actually indicting him and trying to convict him could backfire by making Hamid more intransigent. It is vitally important that this criminal probe be coordinated at the highest levels of the administration with General Petraeus’s headquarters and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to make sure that all the U.S. government actors are on the same page here. Unfortunately, given the Justice Department’s tradition of independence, I suspect that kind of coordination to only happen at the cabinet or even presidential level. Prosecutions, in general, should be made strictly on the merits of the case, but this is a case that is intimately wrapped up with an American war effort in which 100,000 American lives are at risk. Therefore, ordinary law-enforcement concerns need to be subordinated to larger strategic imperatives.

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Riding the Rails

The success of certain sanctions on Iran will always depend on the cooperation of Iran’s neighbors as to their enforcement. Major railway developments in 2010 are aligning to present Turkey and Pakistan, in particular, with decision points in that regard. With cargo and passengers moving in both directions, Iran’s reach in support of terrorists has the prospect of being significantly extended as well.

Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan have been working on a continuous railway link since 2007. Variously known as the Istanbul-Islamabad line or the “Zahedan corridor” — for the hub transits in Iran — the link was completed in mid-2009. With the three nations planning to inaugurate regular passenger and freight service on August 1, the obvious questions are whether the security arrangements in Turkey and Pakistan will reflect the intent of the UN sanctions, and whether they will be brokered with transparent honesty.

Turkey has a heavily-trafficked railway link to Europe as well as domestic concerns about the Kurdish insurgency. The Turks are certain to exercise a high level of vigilance over passengers and cargo at their borders. But that doesn’t mean they will enforce UN sanctions in brokering cargo passage to Iran, nor does it mean they will interdict shipments from Iran destined for Syria (and, ultimately, for Hezbollah). Indeed, light cargo can be transported to Syria with particular ease now, rail service having been restarted between Mersin, Turkey, and Aleppo in June 2010. An additional transport hub is scheduled to open in December between Gaziantep, Turkey, and Aleppo — this one linked with a new rail service between Turkey and Iraq that transits through northern Syria.

On the Pakistani side, railway security will operate according to Islamabad’s domestic priorities; the primary effort will be interdicting foreign support to internal insurgencies. If the Pakistani authorities don’t act as reliable enforcement agents, it won’t be difficult (although it will probably be expensive) to move UN-prohibited cargo to Iran through Pakistani ports and the national rail system. Moreover, given the extent of the emerging rail network — by which passengers will be able to move continuously on rail between Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan –terrorist operatives will have the ability to travel more directly and conveniently than by sea, but still avoid the international law-enforcement vulnerability of commercial air travel.

Iran’s options for evading sanctions are many; it has three other long borders besides the one on the Persian Gulf. Russia’s trade access to Iran across the Caspian Sea has long given Moscow a central position in multilateral negotiations with the mullahs. But with the new rail service joining Turkey and Pakistan, Iran will have a modern, convenient transport option that doesn’t involve Russia. On the Pakistani end, the influence of the EU will be less of a factor than it is with Turkey — and the useful “cover” of a thriving regular trade with China will be more important. For both Iran’s nuclear program and Islamist terror logistics, much will shortly depend on how Ankara and Islamabad handle security and law enforcement on the rails.

The success of certain sanctions on Iran will always depend on the cooperation of Iran’s neighbors as to their enforcement. Major railway developments in 2010 are aligning to present Turkey and Pakistan, in particular, with decision points in that regard. With cargo and passengers moving in both directions, Iran’s reach in support of terrorists has the prospect of being significantly extended as well.

Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan have been working on a continuous railway link since 2007. Variously known as the Istanbul-Islamabad line or the “Zahedan corridor” — for the hub transits in Iran — the link was completed in mid-2009. With the three nations planning to inaugurate regular passenger and freight service on August 1, the obvious questions are whether the security arrangements in Turkey and Pakistan will reflect the intent of the UN sanctions, and whether they will be brokered with transparent honesty.

Turkey has a heavily-trafficked railway link to Europe as well as domestic concerns about the Kurdish insurgency. The Turks are certain to exercise a high level of vigilance over passengers and cargo at their borders. But that doesn’t mean they will enforce UN sanctions in brokering cargo passage to Iran, nor does it mean they will interdict shipments from Iran destined for Syria (and, ultimately, for Hezbollah). Indeed, light cargo can be transported to Syria with particular ease now, rail service having been restarted between Mersin, Turkey, and Aleppo in June 2010. An additional transport hub is scheduled to open in December between Gaziantep, Turkey, and Aleppo — this one linked with a new rail service between Turkey and Iraq that transits through northern Syria.

On the Pakistani side, railway security will operate according to Islamabad’s domestic priorities; the primary effort will be interdicting foreign support to internal insurgencies. If the Pakistani authorities don’t act as reliable enforcement agents, it won’t be difficult (although it will probably be expensive) to move UN-prohibited cargo to Iran through Pakistani ports and the national rail system. Moreover, given the extent of the emerging rail network — by which passengers will be able to move continuously on rail between Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan –terrorist operatives will have the ability to travel more directly and conveniently than by sea, but still avoid the international law-enforcement vulnerability of commercial air travel.

Iran’s options for evading sanctions are many; it has three other long borders besides the one on the Persian Gulf. Russia’s trade access to Iran across the Caspian Sea has long given Moscow a central position in multilateral negotiations with the mullahs. But with the new rail service joining Turkey and Pakistan, Iran will have a modern, convenient transport option that doesn’t involve Russia. On the Pakistani end, the influence of the EU will be less of a factor than it is with Turkey — and the useful “cover” of a thriving regular trade with China will be more important. For both Iran’s nuclear program and Islamist terror logistics, much will shortly depend on how Ankara and Islamabad handle security and law enforcement on the rails.

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The Arizona Immigration Lawsuit

The Obama administration has brought a lawsuit to enjoin the Arizona immigration bill. There is no equal protection argument (i.e., the government doesn’t call Arizonans racists, accuse them of passing a law to hassle Hispanics, or contend that the law is violative of the Equal Protection Clause because it will inevitably impact one ethnic group disproportionately). There is no Fourth Amendment claim challenging the bill’s provisions, which grant police the right to stop and demand documentation based on reasonable suspicion. There are no grand policy pronouncements in the complaint. It is a straightforward pre-emption argument. In paragraph two of the lawsuit, the government asserts:

In our constitutional system, the federal government has preeminent authority to regulate immigration matters. This authority derives from the United States Constitution and numerous acts of Congress. The nation’s immigration laws reflect a careful and considered balance of national law enforcement, foreign relations, and humanitarian interests. Congress has assigned to the United States Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and Department of State, along with other federal agencies, the task of enforcing and administering these immigration-related laws. In administering these laws, the federal agencies balance the complex — and often competing — objectives that animate federal immigration law and policy. Although states may exercise their police power in a manner that has an incidental or indirect effect on aliens, a state may not establish its own immigration policy or enforce state laws in a manner that interferes with the federal immigration laws. The Constitution and the federal immigration laws do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country.

This is not wacky stuff, and may very well carry the day. And frankly, it’s a good thing to have this thrashed out in court so we can resolve the issue as to whether we will have 50 separate immigration laws. Supporters of the law should stop whining about the feds’ lawsuit: if the supporters are right — if, in other words, every state can gin up their own immigration rules — then they’ll have a grand victory.

But after the lawsuit is won or lost, we’ll still have unsecured borders. And we’ll still have millions around the world who want to come here and millions already here whom — with all due respect to Sen. John McCain – Americans don’t have the stomach to round up and send “home.” (By the way, can we agree as a factual matter that, generally, their homes and lives and children are here?)

In sum, I don’t begrudge the filing of the lawsuit. What we should all mind is that we have a president who’d rather fan the rhetorical flames than try to solve the problem.

The Obama administration has brought a lawsuit to enjoin the Arizona immigration bill. There is no equal protection argument (i.e., the government doesn’t call Arizonans racists, accuse them of passing a law to hassle Hispanics, or contend that the law is violative of the Equal Protection Clause because it will inevitably impact one ethnic group disproportionately). There is no Fourth Amendment claim challenging the bill’s provisions, which grant police the right to stop and demand documentation based on reasonable suspicion. There are no grand policy pronouncements in the complaint. It is a straightforward pre-emption argument. In paragraph two of the lawsuit, the government asserts:

In our constitutional system, the federal government has preeminent authority to regulate immigration matters. This authority derives from the United States Constitution and numerous acts of Congress. The nation’s immigration laws reflect a careful and considered balance of national law enforcement, foreign relations, and humanitarian interests. Congress has assigned to the United States Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and Department of State, along with other federal agencies, the task of enforcing and administering these immigration-related laws. In administering these laws, the federal agencies balance the complex — and often competing — objectives that animate federal immigration law and policy. Although states may exercise their police power in a manner that has an incidental or indirect effect on aliens, a state may not establish its own immigration policy or enforce state laws in a manner that interferes with the federal immigration laws. The Constitution and the federal immigration laws do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country.

This is not wacky stuff, and may very well carry the day. And frankly, it’s a good thing to have this thrashed out in court so we can resolve the issue as to whether we will have 50 separate immigration laws. Supporters of the law should stop whining about the feds’ lawsuit: if the supporters are right — if, in other words, every state can gin up their own immigration rules — then they’ll have a grand victory.

But after the lawsuit is won or lost, we’ll still have unsecured borders. And we’ll still have millions around the world who want to come here and millions already here whom — with all due respect to Sen. John McCain – Americans don’t have the stomach to round up and send “home.” (By the way, can we agree as a factual matter that, generally, their homes and lives and children are here?)

In sum, I don’t begrudge the filing of the lawsuit. What we should all mind is that we have a president who’d rather fan the rhetorical flames than try to solve the problem.

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Obama Tries to Put the Immigration Onus on GOP

While the ostensible purpose of President Obama’s speech at American University this morning on immigration reform was to put forward a realistic proposal, it was clear that his main intent was to try and put Republicans on the spot.

Calling, as he is fond of doing on every issue, for others to put aside politics, he specifically challenged the GOP to support his rather loosely defined plan that called for giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, an attempt to control the border as well as rationalizing the complex and largely unfair existing immigration statutes. He claimed that he was merely being forced to clean up the mess left behind by others since he “won’t just kick the can down the road” on this issue. Asserting that the Democrats are behind him, he said the whole question of reform would rest on whether Republicans would join him on the issue. It was only toward the end of the speech that he acknowledged in passing that his “predecessor” had “shown courage” on the issue. In fact, George W. Bush put forward a not dissimilar package of immigration reform in 2005.

It’s no secret that the chances of passage of any such bill in the current Congress are less than nil. Far from a stark partisan division on the issue, many Democrats have indulged in the same sort of “demagoguery” on immigration that Obama seemed to imply was limited to Republicans. In fact, had the Democrats in Congress been united and passionate advocates of this cause, President Bush would have succeeded in his attempt to do more or less what Obama says he wants to accomplish. It is a testament to Obama’s knowledge of this political reality that he did not spend much of his speech bashing the controversial Arizona law enabling law-enforcement personnel to inquire about the immigration status of a person already in trouble with the law. Nor did he follow Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s lead when she recently told a South American journalist that Obama would order the Justice Department to sue Arizona to stop the measure’s enforcement. Indeed, the worst he said of the law was that it was “divisive.”

It is an unfortunate fact that many on the right have boxed themselves in on immigration to the point where any position on it other than a call for a draconian crackdown on illegals and mass deportation (which Obama rightly claims is unrealistic) is considered akin to amnesty. While the president attempted to pose somewhat disingenuously as the man between two extremes, by offering those here illegally a path to citizenship (preceded by paying a fine, waiting in line behind those who have applied via the legal apparatus, and learning English), he is unlikely to get much support from many conservatives or moderates from either party. That’s a shame, since Obama’s proposals, like those of Bush before him, constitute nothing more than recognition of reality in terms of both law enforcement and the undeniable demand that exists here for low-wage foreign workers. While neither this Congress nor its successor is likely to pass such a bill, that does not mean that it shouldn’t.

But unlike Bush, who unveiled his immigration plan at the start of his second term hoping (in vain, as it turned out) to cash in some of his political capital on an issue he cared about, Obama’s purpose here seems to be about politics, not principle, as he is hoping that Hispanics will blame Republicans for the inevitable failure of this proposal. While this may ratchet up the Hispanic vote for the Democrats, it’s hard to see how this will work in a midterm election in which many Democrats around the country are just as likely to resent illegal immigrants as Republicans.

While the ostensible purpose of President Obama’s speech at American University this morning on immigration reform was to put forward a realistic proposal, it was clear that his main intent was to try and put Republicans on the spot.

Calling, as he is fond of doing on every issue, for others to put aside politics, he specifically challenged the GOP to support his rather loosely defined plan that called for giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, an attempt to control the border as well as rationalizing the complex and largely unfair existing immigration statutes. He claimed that he was merely being forced to clean up the mess left behind by others since he “won’t just kick the can down the road” on this issue. Asserting that the Democrats are behind him, he said the whole question of reform would rest on whether Republicans would join him on the issue. It was only toward the end of the speech that he acknowledged in passing that his “predecessor” had “shown courage” on the issue. In fact, George W. Bush put forward a not dissimilar package of immigration reform in 2005.

It’s no secret that the chances of passage of any such bill in the current Congress are less than nil. Far from a stark partisan division on the issue, many Democrats have indulged in the same sort of “demagoguery” on immigration that Obama seemed to imply was limited to Republicans. In fact, had the Democrats in Congress been united and passionate advocates of this cause, President Bush would have succeeded in his attempt to do more or less what Obama says he wants to accomplish. It is a testament to Obama’s knowledge of this political reality that he did not spend much of his speech bashing the controversial Arizona law enabling law-enforcement personnel to inquire about the immigration status of a person already in trouble with the law. Nor did he follow Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s lead when she recently told a South American journalist that Obama would order the Justice Department to sue Arizona to stop the measure’s enforcement. Indeed, the worst he said of the law was that it was “divisive.”

It is an unfortunate fact that many on the right have boxed themselves in on immigration to the point where any position on it other than a call for a draconian crackdown on illegals and mass deportation (which Obama rightly claims is unrealistic) is considered akin to amnesty. While the president attempted to pose somewhat disingenuously as the man between two extremes, by offering those here illegally a path to citizenship (preceded by paying a fine, waiting in line behind those who have applied via the legal apparatus, and learning English), he is unlikely to get much support from many conservatives or moderates from either party. That’s a shame, since Obama’s proposals, like those of Bush before him, constitute nothing more than recognition of reality in terms of both law enforcement and the undeniable demand that exists here for low-wage foreign workers. While neither this Congress nor its successor is likely to pass such a bill, that does not mean that it shouldn’t.

But unlike Bush, who unveiled his immigration plan at the start of his second term hoping (in vain, as it turned out) to cash in some of his political capital on an issue he cared about, Obama’s purpose here seems to be about politics, not principle, as he is hoping that Hispanics will blame Republicans for the inevitable failure of this proposal. While this may ratchet up the Hispanic vote for the Democrats, it’s hard to see how this will work in a midterm election in which many Democrats around the country are just as likely to resent illegal immigrants as Republicans.

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New Poll Shatters Myths on Gaza Blockade and Settlement Freeze

A new poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research shatters several myths about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first is that Israel’s blockade of Gaza in general, and its botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in particular, has only strengthened Hamas.

The poll, conducted between June 10 and 13, found that “despite the events associated with the Free Gaza flotilla and the Israeli attack on it,” there was “a significant improvement in the status of Salam Fayyad and his government.” If elections were held today, 45% of Palestinians would vote for Fatah and 26% for Hamas, compared with 42% and 28%, respectively, in March. Most interestingly, Fatah trounces Hamas among Gazans: 49% to 32%. Fayyad, who had zero political support when he took office three years ago, would now edge out Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in a presidential matchup, 36% to 32%. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would rout Haniyeh, 54% to 39%; that is up from 50% to 40% in March.

Why the upsurge? Because the blockade is working: “Only 9% say conditions in the Gaza Strip today are good or very good while 35% say conditions in the West Bank are good or very good.” Moreover, while 62% of Gazans and 60% of West Bankers “feel that their personal safety and security and that of their family are assured,” the Gaza figure is down from 70% in March, while the West Bank figure is up from 55%. Strong majorities in the West Bank say the economy, health care, education, and law enforcement have improved since Fayyad became prime minister.

Myth No. 2: Palestinians’ prime concern is ending Israeli settlement construction. In fact, the poll found a huge majority, 60% to 38%, opposing a ban on Palestinians working in the settlements; in the West Bank, where the settlements actually are, support dropped to 34% percent. And since Palestinians work in the settlements almost exclusively in construction, the obvious implication is that they prefer construction to continue, so that they can have jobs.

Why? Because most Palestinians’ actual prime concern is supporting their families (something that really shouldn’t surprise those liberals who believe all people want the same things), and the settlements are a major employer. It will be years before the Palestinian economy is capable of providing an alternative. Thus by demanding a freeze on settlement construction now, Barack Obama and his European counterparts are merely generating massive Palestinian unemployment. It turns out that Palestinians would rather they didn’t.

Myth No. 3: Israel’s war on Gaza last year was counterproductive. Actually, 57% of Palestinians now support efforts by Hamas to prevent rocket launches at Israeli towns, while only 38% oppose them. In June 2008, six months before the war began, the opposite was true: 57% of Palestinians favored rocket attacks on Israel. In short, the war achieved exactly what it was meant to achieve: discouraging rocket fire.

But here’s one thing that really is counterproductive: Western governments making policy based on what they want to believe rather than on the facts. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.

A new poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research shatters several myths about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first is that Israel’s blockade of Gaza in general, and its botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in particular, has only strengthened Hamas.

The poll, conducted between June 10 and 13, found that “despite the events associated with the Free Gaza flotilla and the Israeli attack on it,” there was “a significant improvement in the status of Salam Fayyad and his government.” If elections were held today, 45% of Palestinians would vote for Fatah and 26% for Hamas, compared with 42% and 28%, respectively, in March. Most interestingly, Fatah trounces Hamas among Gazans: 49% to 32%. Fayyad, who had zero political support when he took office three years ago, would now edge out Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in a presidential matchup, 36% to 32%. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would rout Haniyeh, 54% to 39%; that is up from 50% to 40% in March.

Why the upsurge? Because the blockade is working: “Only 9% say conditions in the Gaza Strip today are good or very good while 35% say conditions in the West Bank are good or very good.” Moreover, while 62% of Gazans and 60% of West Bankers “feel that their personal safety and security and that of their family are assured,” the Gaza figure is down from 70% in March, while the West Bank figure is up from 55%. Strong majorities in the West Bank say the economy, health care, education, and law enforcement have improved since Fayyad became prime minister.

Myth No. 2: Palestinians’ prime concern is ending Israeli settlement construction. In fact, the poll found a huge majority, 60% to 38%, opposing a ban on Palestinians working in the settlements; in the West Bank, where the settlements actually are, support dropped to 34% percent. And since Palestinians work in the settlements almost exclusively in construction, the obvious implication is that they prefer construction to continue, so that they can have jobs.

Why? Because most Palestinians’ actual prime concern is supporting their families (something that really shouldn’t surprise those liberals who believe all people want the same things), and the settlements are a major employer. It will be years before the Palestinian economy is capable of providing an alternative. Thus by demanding a freeze on settlement construction now, Barack Obama and his European counterparts are merely generating massive Palestinian unemployment. It turns out that Palestinians would rather they didn’t.

Myth No. 3: Israel’s war on Gaza last year was counterproductive. Actually, 57% of Palestinians now support efforts by Hamas to prevent rocket launches at Israeli towns, while only 38% oppose them. In June 2008, six months before the war began, the opposite was true: 57% of Palestinians favored rocket attacks on Israel. In short, the war achieved exactly what it was meant to achieve: discouraging rocket fire.

But here’s one thing that really is counterproductive: Western governments making policy based on what they want to believe rather than on the facts. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.

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RE: What Would Reagan Have Thought?

Jennifer Rubin draws attention to the elephant in the room — that is, the GOP’s unfortunate posturing toward immigration, of which John McCain has lately become the embodiment.

It should be of some consolation that before he could find someone to cast in the nativist role he sought, McCain had to do quite a bit of fruitless searching and, in the end, resort to “synthesizing” his ad from the scenery of a border town and the commentary of a sheriff from a different county. Indeed, the sheriff who enthusiastically confirms McCain’s bona fides as “one of us” — whatever that means — hails from Pinal county, not even on the border, while the ad is shot in Nogales, a border town in the county of Santa Cruz, whose sheriff, Antonio Estrada, has blasted the Arizona immigration bill in no uncertain terms:

“Local law enforcement has a great relationship with the Hispanic community, and something like this is really going to scare these people,” said [Sheriff] Estrada. “They’re going to look at us as immigration officers every time they see us.”

Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff of Pima — another county in Southern Arizona, which shares with Mexico the longest border in the state — has called the bill “disgusting,” “racist,” and “unnecessary.”

The ad merely reveals McCain to be a politician, evidently less principled than his supporters took him for in 2008. His presidential ambitions now thwarted, in order to at least not lose his Senate seat, he has gone to great lengths — as far as to endorse the anti-immigration bill of Arizona after having supported the pro-immigration bill of President Bush. But no matter that a politician should flip-flop. Most troubling is the fact that McCain judged this ad expedient because it can find a sympathetic audience among the GOP base.

Incendiary as some of them might be, it is hard to dismiss the complaints against the Arizona immigration bill, for it

makes it a state misdemeanor crime for an alien to be in Arizona without carrying registration documents required by federal law, and obligates police to make an attempt, when practicable during a “lawful stop, detention or arrest made by a law enforcement official,” to determine a person’s immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is an illegal alien. Police may arrest a person if there is probable cause that the person is an alien not in possession of required registration documents.

Therefore, the law relies for its execution on the discretion of law-enforcement agents, known to misfire even before the bill invested in them so much authority. Take, for example, the detention of a U.S. citizen of Hispanic descent in Phoenix a few months back:

Abdon was told he did not have enough paperwork on him when he pulled into a weigh station to have his commercial truck checked. He provided his commercial driver’s license and a social security number but ended up handcuffed.

An agent called his wife and she had to leave work to drive home and grab other documents like his birth certificate. …

Both were born in the United States and say they are now both infuriated that keeping important documents safely at home is no longer an option.

Jackie says, “It doesn’t feel like it’s a good way of life, to live with fear, even though we are okay, we are legal … still have to carry documents around.”

Disgraceful incidents such as this cannot but multiply now in Arizona. And it would be sad to see the fetish for birth certificates spread from the small lunatic band of “birthers,” who refuse to believe that President Obama is a natural-born U.S. citizen, into the broader base of the GOP, which seems to support the Arizona bill.

As a legal alien, I would shudder if such a bill as this came to pass in New York, where I live — though, on second thought, I’d have little to fear, since I am and look European. Indeed, does anyone think that racial profiling will not guide the application of this law? On what other grounds can one be reasonably suspected of being an illegal alien? It is easy for those Arizonans who can boast a porcelain complexion and a flawless accent to support the bill, for by virtue of such qualifications alone they will never be subjected to any inconvenience from it. Of course, it would be another thing entirely if the bill required that at a lawful stop, detention, or arrest anyone must be extensively probed for documentation. In that case, I’d love to hear the opinion of those who now support the bill and scoff indignantly at the charges of discrimination leveled against it.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Independently, even, of this disastrous bill, the GOP’s position on immigration needs serious rethinking. At its heart lies the nativist meme Jen mentioned, that of foreigners stealing American jobs — perhaps the only talking point many on the right share with the unionists on the left. Not only is it distasteful and wrongheaded, not only does it repulse immigrants, legal ones too, but it also undermines the right’s reputation for economic literacy. True, an immigrant gainfully employed takes a job. But he or she also patronizes other businesses while living in the country, thus creating other jobs — for Americans. A bigger population means greater economic activity and more jobs. Indeed, blaming immigrants for putting Americans out of work is as sound as blaming the young, in a population reproducing above replacement rate, of stealing their elders’ jobs. Ironically, the nativists who complain thus about immigrants are often the very same ones (think John Derbyshire, think Peter Brimelow) who, in so many words, lament the impending collapse of Western Civilization due to the white man’s failure to breed as diligently as they think he should.

Republicans had better not concede their position on immigration to the few Buchananite elements in their midst.

Jennifer Rubin draws attention to the elephant in the room — that is, the GOP’s unfortunate posturing toward immigration, of which John McCain has lately become the embodiment.

It should be of some consolation that before he could find someone to cast in the nativist role he sought, McCain had to do quite a bit of fruitless searching and, in the end, resort to “synthesizing” his ad from the scenery of a border town and the commentary of a sheriff from a different county. Indeed, the sheriff who enthusiastically confirms McCain’s bona fides as “one of us” — whatever that means — hails from Pinal county, not even on the border, while the ad is shot in Nogales, a border town in the county of Santa Cruz, whose sheriff, Antonio Estrada, has blasted the Arizona immigration bill in no uncertain terms:

“Local law enforcement has a great relationship with the Hispanic community, and something like this is really going to scare these people,” said [Sheriff] Estrada. “They’re going to look at us as immigration officers every time they see us.”

Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff of Pima — another county in Southern Arizona, which shares with Mexico the longest border in the state — has called the bill “disgusting,” “racist,” and “unnecessary.”

The ad merely reveals McCain to be a politician, evidently less principled than his supporters took him for in 2008. His presidential ambitions now thwarted, in order to at least not lose his Senate seat, he has gone to great lengths — as far as to endorse the anti-immigration bill of Arizona after having supported the pro-immigration bill of President Bush. But no matter that a politician should flip-flop. Most troubling is the fact that McCain judged this ad expedient because it can find a sympathetic audience among the GOP base.

Incendiary as some of them might be, it is hard to dismiss the complaints against the Arizona immigration bill, for it

makes it a state misdemeanor crime for an alien to be in Arizona without carrying registration documents required by federal law, and obligates police to make an attempt, when practicable during a “lawful stop, detention or arrest made by a law enforcement official,” to determine a person’s immigration status if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is an illegal alien. Police may arrest a person if there is probable cause that the person is an alien not in possession of required registration documents.

Therefore, the law relies for its execution on the discretion of law-enforcement agents, known to misfire even before the bill invested in them so much authority. Take, for example, the detention of a U.S. citizen of Hispanic descent in Phoenix a few months back:

Abdon was told he did not have enough paperwork on him when he pulled into a weigh station to have his commercial truck checked. He provided his commercial driver’s license and a social security number but ended up handcuffed.

An agent called his wife and she had to leave work to drive home and grab other documents like his birth certificate. …

Both were born in the United States and say they are now both infuriated that keeping important documents safely at home is no longer an option.

Jackie says, “It doesn’t feel like it’s a good way of life, to live with fear, even though we are okay, we are legal … still have to carry documents around.”

Disgraceful incidents such as this cannot but multiply now in Arizona. And it would be sad to see the fetish for birth certificates spread from the small lunatic band of “birthers,” who refuse to believe that President Obama is a natural-born U.S. citizen, into the broader base of the GOP, which seems to support the Arizona bill.

As a legal alien, I would shudder if such a bill as this came to pass in New York, where I live — though, on second thought, I’d have little to fear, since I am and look European. Indeed, does anyone think that racial profiling will not guide the application of this law? On what other grounds can one be reasonably suspected of being an illegal alien? It is easy for those Arizonans who can boast a porcelain complexion and a flawless accent to support the bill, for by virtue of such qualifications alone they will never be subjected to any inconvenience from it. Of course, it would be another thing entirely if the bill required that at a lawful stop, detention, or arrest anyone must be extensively probed for documentation. In that case, I’d love to hear the opinion of those who now support the bill and scoff indignantly at the charges of discrimination leveled against it.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Independently, even, of this disastrous bill, the GOP’s position on immigration needs serious rethinking. At its heart lies the nativist meme Jen mentioned, that of foreigners stealing American jobs — perhaps the only talking point many on the right share with the unionists on the left. Not only is it distasteful and wrongheaded, not only does it repulse immigrants, legal ones too, but it also undermines the right’s reputation for economic literacy. True, an immigrant gainfully employed takes a job. But he or she also patronizes other businesses while living in the country, thus creating other jobs — for Americans. A bigger population means greater economic activity and more jobs. Indeed, blaming immigrants for putting Americans out of work is as sound as blaming the young, in a population reproducing above replacement rate, of stealing their elders’ jobs. Ironically, the nativists who complain thus about immigrants are often the very same ones (think John Derbyshire, think Peter Brimelow) who, in so many words, lament the impending collapse of Western Civilization due to the white man’s failure to breed as diligently as they think he should.

Republicans had better not concede their position on immigration to the few Buchananite elements in their midst.

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Turkey Needs More Democracy

There have been a number of articles, such as this one in the Wall Street Journal by Rob Pollock, trenchantly dissecting the decline of Turkey. This once stalwart ally of America and Israel now supports the sort of rabid anti-Israel, pro-Hamas sentiment displayed by the Gaza flotilla. This is indeed an alarming trend, not only for what it says about the future of Israeli-Turkish relations (which, sadly, seem to be beyond salvation at the moment), but also for what it says about the prospects for democracy in the Middle East.

Israel aside, Turkey has been the most durable democracy in the region, although its freedom has always been tempered by occasional military interventions (sometimes called “soft coups”) to safeguard the secularist legacy of Ataturk. In recent years, the military has pulled back from politics and allowed the ascension of the Islamist AK Party led by Prime Minister Erdogan. There were mutterings about military intervention in 2007, when Erdogan chose a fellow AK party member, Abdullah Gul, to fill the largely ceremonial post of president, but nothing happened. Turkey is today arguably the freest it has been with a popular prime minister ruling based on a solid majority. Freedom House notes: “The July 2007 elections were widely judged to have been free and fair, with reports of more open debate on traditionally sensitive issues.”

And yet those free and fair elections have produced a government that is increasingly anti-Israel and anti-American — a government that often sounds indistinguishable from dictatorships such as Iran and Syria. This would seem to offer one more piece of evidence to those — ranging from many Israelis to American Realpolitikers and Middle East despots — who believe that the Middle East is simply not ready for democracy and that if you allow elections, the result will be to entrench Hamas, Hezbollah, and their fellow travelers.

For my part, I am not ready to give up on promoting democracy, especially in countries such as Iran and Syria, where it is hard to imagine that any alternative government could possibly be worse than the status quo. In the case of Iran, there is actually a good deal of reason to believe that a democratically elected government would be considerably more moderate and liberal than the incumbent regime, although it may decide to keep Iran’s nuclear weapons program going.

What about countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which are reasonably friendly toward the U.S. under their current rulers — and in the case of Egypt and Jordan, have even made peace with Israel? Does the Turkish precedent (and the troubled results of elections in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories) suggest a go-slow attitude toward electoral reform? It certainly suggests that elections are by no means a panacea and that unelected rulers may in fact be more friendly to the West than those who could win a popular mandate. But that doesn’t mean that an unpopular status quo can be sustained forever. Sooner or later, for example, an ailing and elderly Hosni Mubarak will pass from the scene, and it is by no means clear that his son will be able to follow him.

The trick from the American standpoint is to promote gradual liberalization without risking a takeover by extremist groups such as Hamas, which would be interested in “one vote, one man, one time.” Democracy, as we know, involves more than voting; it must have checks and balances provided by an independent press corps, judiciary, and political opposition. Turkey has been deficient in all these regards, which helps to explain why, despite its regular elections, it is rated as only “partly free” by Freedom House.

Many of the limitations on popular democracy were imposed by the secularist military, but the AK Party has made use of state power to its own benefit. For instance, it has pursued massive legal cases based on dubious evidence against dozens of secularists who are accused of plotting to undermine the government. Then there are continuing restrictions on press freedom. Freedom House notes:

A 2006 antiterrorism law reintroduced jail sentences for journalists, and Article 301 of the 2004 revised penal code allows journalists and others to be prosecuted for discussing subjects such as the division of Cyprus and the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Turks, which many consider to have been genocide. People have been charged under the same article for crimes such as insulting the armed services and denigrating “Turkishness”; very few have been convicted, but the trials are time-consuming and expensive. An April 2008 amendment changed Article 301’s language to prohibit insulting “the Turkish nation,” with a maximum sentence of two instead of three years, but cases continue to be brought under that and other clauses. For example, in 2009 a journalist who wrote an article denouncing what he said was the unlawful imprisonment of his father, also a journalist, was himself sentenced to 14 months in prison….

Nearly all media organizations are owned by giant holding companies with interests in other sectors, contributing to self-censorship. In 2009, the Dogan holding company, which owns many media outlets, was ordered to pay crippling fines for tax evasion in what was widely described as a politicized case stemming from Dogan’s criticism of AK and its members. The internet is subject to the same censorship policies that apply to other media, and a 2007 law allows the state to block access to websites deemed to insult Ataturk or whose content includes criminal activities. This law has been used to block access to the video-sharing website YouTube since 2008, as well as several other websites in 2009.

Turkey has suffered not only from such restrictions but also from the fact that the secularist opposition has been in disarray. The Republican People’s Party, founded by Ataturk, has just chosen a new leader to replace its longtime head, who had to step down after the appearance of an Internet sex video in which he apparently played a starring role.

The opposition has its work cut out for it. As one prominent Turkish columnist has noted, while AK did well initially, “since 2007 its reign has been tainted by repressive tactics against the secular media, an effort to control the judiciary, excessive use of wiretapping by law enforcement, and a legal jihad against members of the armed forces in ‘coup’ investigations where the lines between fact and fiction often seem blurry.” And now tainted as well by anti-Israeli and anti-American animus.

While Turkey’s experience should not lead to a dismissal of democratization in the Middle East, it should remind us that democracy, especially when partial and limited, is no cure-all for a country’s ills. We should also keep in mind, however, in the case of Turkey as well as other countries, that the best cure for democracy’s ills may well be more democracy.

There have been a number of articles, such as this one in the Wall Street Journal by Rob Pollock, trenchantly dissecting the decline of Turkey. This once stalwart ally of America and Israel now supports the sort of rabid anti-Israel, pro-Hamas sentiment displayed by the Gaza flotilla. This is indeed an alarming trend, not only for what it says about the future of Israeli-Turkish relations (which, sadly, seem to be beyond salvation at the moment), but also for what it says about the prospects for democracy in the Middle East.

Israel aside, Turkey has been the most durable democracy in the region, although its freedom has always been tempered by occasional military interventions (sometimes called “soft coups”) to safeguard the secularist legacy of Ataturk. In recent years, the military has pulled back from politics and allowed the ascension of the Islamist AK Party led by Prime Minister Erdogan. There were mutterings about military intervention in 2007, when Erdogan chose a fellow AK party member, Abdullah Gul, to fill the largely ceremonial post of president, but nothing happened. Turkey is today arguably the freest it has been with a popular prime minister ruling based on a solid majority. Freedom House notes: “The July 2007 elections were widely judged to have been free and fair, with reports of more open debate on traditionally sensitive issues.”

And yet those free and fair elections have produced a government that is increasingly anti-Israel and anti-American — a government that often sounds indistinguishable from dictatorships such as Iran and Syria. This would seem to offer one more piece of evidence to those — ranging from many Israelis to American Realpolitikers and Middle East despots — who believe that the Middle East is simply not ready for democracy and that if you allow elections, the result will be to entrench Hamas, Hezbollah, and their fellow travelers.

For my part, I am not ready to give up on promoting democracy, especially in countries such as Iran and Syria, where it is hard to imagine that any alternative government could possibly be worse than the status quo. In the case of Iran, there is actually a good deal of reason to believe that a democratically elected government would be considerably more moderate and liberal than the incumbent regime, although it may decide to keep Iran’s nuclear weapons program going.

What about countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which are reasonably friendly toward the U.S. under their current rulers — and in the case of Egypt and Jordan, have even made peace with Israel? Does the Turkish precedent (and the troubled results of elections in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories) suggest a go-slow attitude toward electoral reform? It certainly suggests that elections are by no means a panacea and that unelected rulers may in fact be more friendly to the West than those who could win a popular mandate. But that doesn’t mean that an unpopular status quo can be sustained forever. Sooner or later, for example, an ailing and elderly Hosni Mubarak will pass from the scene, and it is by no means clear that his son will be able to follow him.

The trick from the American standpoint is to promote gradual liberalization without risking a takeover by extremist groups such as Hamas, which would be interested in “one vote, one man, one time.” Democracy, as we know, involves more than voting; it must have checks and balances provided by an independent press corps, judiciary, and political opposition. Turkey has been deficient in all these regards, which helps to explain why, despite its regular elections, it is rated as only “partly free” by Freedom House.

Many of the limitations on popular democracy were imposed by the secularist military, but the AK Party has made use of state power to its own benefit. For instance, it has pursued massive legal cases based on dubious evidence against dozens of secularists who are accused of plotting to undermine the government. Then there are continuing restrictions on press freedom. Freedom House notes:

A 2006 antiterrorism law reintroduced jail sentences for journalists, and Article 301 of the 2004 revised penal code allows journalists and others to be prosecuted for discussing subjects such as the division of Cyprus and the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Turks, which many consider to have been genocide. People have been charged under the same article for crimes such as insulting the armed services and denigrating “Turkishness”; very few have been convicted, but the trials are time-consuming and expensive. An April 2008 amendment changed Article 301’s language to prohibit insulting “the Turkish nation,” with a maximum sentence of two instead of three years, but cases continue to be brought under that and other clauses. For example, in 2009 a journalist who wrote an article denouncing what he said was the unlawful imprisonment of his father, also a journalist, was himself sentenced to 14 months in prison….

Nearly all media organizations are owned by giant holding companies with interests in other sectors, contributing to self-censorship. In 2009, the Dogan holding company, which owns many media outlets, was ordered to pay crippling fines for tax evasion in what was widely described as a politicized case stemming from Dogan’s criticism of AK and its members. The internet is subject to the same censorship policies that apply to other media, and a 2007 law allows the state to block access to websites deemed to insult Ataturk or whose content includes criminal activities. This law has been used to block access to the video-sharing website YouTube since 2008, as well as several other websites in 2009.

Turkey has suffered not only from such restrictions but also from the fact that the secularist opposition has been in disarray. The Republican People’s Party, founded by Ataturk, has just chosen a new leader to replace its longtime head, who had to step down after the appearance of an Internet sex video in which he apparently played a starring role.

The opposition has its work cut out for it. As one prominent Turkish columnist has noted, while AK did well initially, “since 2007 its reign has been tainted by repressive tactics against the secular media, an effort to control the judiciary, excessive use of wiretapping by law enforcement, and a legal jihad against members of the armed forces in ‘coup’ investigations where the lines between fact and fiction often seem blurry.” And now tainted as well by anti-Israeli and anti-American animus.

While Turkey’s experience should not lead to a dismissal of democratization in the Middle East, it should remind us that democracy, especially when partial and limited, is no cure-all for a country’s ills. We should also keep in mind, however, in the case of Turkey as well as other countries, that the best cure for democracy’s ills may well be more democracy.

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Does the Obama Administration’s Anti-Terrorism Strategy Rely on Luck?

The administration is sensitive to the notion that they are relying on terrorists’ ineptitude and alert citizenry to defend America. On Fox News Sunday, the continually hapless John Brennan had this to say when asked if the administration was “more lucky than good in some of these terror cases”:

BRENNAN: I consider that homeland security, law enforcement, intelligence and the military have done an outstanding job since 9/11.

You know, when I hear these references to being lucky, tell that to the hundreds of thousands of American men and women who are serving in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world, who are at our points of entry, who are working around the clock here in the United States and abroad. That’s not luck.

That’s patriotism. That’s dedication. That’s capability and talent. And so we’ve been able to stop them in their tracks. They are determined. They are going to continue to look for opportunities to get here to the United States. This is something that they have pledged to do.

I think we have a very strong track record, and that’s why we have redundant capabilities in place. We’re not lucky. We’re good.

Huh? How did the patriotism of American servicemen get into this? Brennan’s obvious discomfort — and resort to an off-putting non sequitur — suggests that the administration is becoming a tad sensitive to the criticisms that, given the four attacks on the homeland, something isn’t quite working properly. On the same program, Sen. Joe Lieberman and Rep. Peter King introduced some much needed candor:

LIEBERMAN: Well, after the fact of the attempted bombing attack last Saturday night, the reaction was not just excellent, it was almost miraculous — 53 hours and we’ve apprehended him. Great cooperation. Just the kind of work that we all hoped would happen when we set up the Department of Homeland Security post-9/11.

But the fact is that we were lucky. We did not prevent the attempted attack. And that’s the — in some sense, the fourth break through our defenses. Last spring in Arkansas, Hasan, the Detroit bomber and this one.

Look, we’re in a big open society. And if people are fanatical enough to put their own lives on the line — “I want to kill other innocent human beings” — it’s hard to stop them every time, but that has to be our goal. So I’d say in terms of prevention, the system failed.

And what we’ve got to do now is to go back, put all the facts together and look at every point. Was there something the U.S. government, our allies, could have done to stop Faisal Shahzad before he parked that car in Times Square?

WALLACE: Same basic question picking up on that with you, Congressman King. Is there something more the Obama administration could have done with at least three attacks in the last six months — Hasan, Abdulmutallab, and now Shahzad?

KING: Well, I was very critical of the administration for the Major Hasan shooting. I was also very critical of the Abdulmutallab incident on Christmas Day.

As far as this one, Chris, the evidence isn’t in yet as to what was available. Based on what we’ve seen, I don’t know if we could have stopped him before he got — Shahzad before he got to Times Square. We’ll have to wait until, you know, all the dots are put out there. It’s very difficult because we don’t get very much information from this administration.

But one real criticism I do have, Chris, is what happened in the last hours of the investigation. Beginning some time on Monday afternoon, high administration sources were leaking out the most confidential, classified information which compromised this investigation, put lives at risk and very probably caused Shahzad to escape and make it undetected to the airport.

They were putting out information I’d never heard of in a — in a case of this magnitude, and it was coming from the administration, coming from Washington. And I know the troops on the ground in New York were very concerned about it.

The administration’s hyper-defensiveness goes hand-in-hand with its refusal to open itself up to scrutiny when it comes to examining these incidents. As we saw with the refusal to respond to Lieberman’s subpoena on the Fort Hood massacre and the refusal to release information about recidivism of  released Guantanamo detainees, the administration insists that we take it on faith that they are “good” and have just the right policies in place. The track record they are developing, however, suggests otherwise. In any event, that’s not how our system should work. We have another political branch of government, not to mention the American people, that deserves answers to hard questions.

It is only because Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have largely allowed the administration to avoid oversight that it has gotten away with such a dearth of transparency. That may change this November. We may then finally discover just how lucky we’ve been.

The administration is sensitive to the notion that they are relying on terrorists’ ineptitude and alert citizenry to defend America. On Fox News Sunday, the continually hapless John Brennan had this to say when asked if the administration was “more lucky than good in some of these terror cases”:

BRENNAN: I consider that homeland security, law enforcement, intelligence and the military have done an outstanding job since 9/11.

You know, when I hear these references to being lucky, tell that to the hundreds of thousands of American men and women who are serving in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world, who are at our points of entry, who are working around the clock here in the United States and abroad. That’s not luck.

That’s patriotism. That’s dedication. That’s capability and talent. And so we’ve been able to stop them in their tracks. They are determined. They are going to continue to look for opportunities to get here to the United States. This is something that they have pledged to do.

I think we have a very strong track record, and that’s why we have redundant capabilities in place. We’re not lucky. We’re good.

Huh? How did the patriotism of American servicemen get into this? Brennan’s obvious discomfort — and resort to an off-putting non sequitur — suggests that the administration is becoming a tad sensitive to the criticisms that, given the four attacks on the homeland, something isn’t quite working properly. On the same program, Sen. Joe Lieberman and Rep. Peter King introduced some much needed candor:

LIEBERMAN: Well, after the fact of the attempted bombing attack last Saturday night, the reaction was not just excellent, it was almost miraculous — 53 hours and we’ve apprehended him. Great cooperation. Just the kind of work that we all hoped would happen when we set up the Department of Homeland Security post-9/11.

But the fact is that we were lucky. We did not prevent the attempted attack. And that’s the — in some sense, the fourth break through our defenses. Last spring in Arkansas, Hasan, the Detroit bomber and this one.

Look, we’re in a big open society. And if people are fanatical enough to put their own lives on the line — “I want to kill other innocent human beings” — it’s hard to stop them every time, but that has to be our goal. So I’d say in terms of prevention, the system failed.

And what we’ve got to do now is to go back, put all the facts together and look at every point. Was there something the U.S. government, our allies, could have done to stop Faisal Shahzad before he parked that car in Times Square?

WALLACE: Same basic question picking up on that with you, Congressman King. Is there something more the Obama administration could have done with at least three attacks in the last six months — Hasan, Abdulmutallab, and now Shahzad?

KING: Well, I was very critical of the administration for the Major Hasan shooting. I was also very critical of the Abdulmutallab incident on Christmas Day.

As far as this one, Chris, the evidence isn’t in yet as to what was available. Based on what we’ve seen, I don’t know if we could have stopped him before he got — Shahzad before he got to Times Square. We’ll have to wait until, you know, all the dots are put out there. It’s very difficult because we don’t get very much information from this administration.

But one real criticism I do have, Chris, is what happened in the last hours of the investigation. Beginning some time on Monday afternoon, high administration sources were leaking out the most confidential, classified information which compromised this investigation, put lives at risk and very probably caused Shahzad to escape and make it undetected to the airport.

They were putting out information I’d never heard of in a — in a case of this magnitude, and it was coming from the administration, coming from Washington. And I know the troops on the ground in New York were very concerned about it.

The administration’s hyper-defensiveness goes hand-in-hand with its refusal to open itself up to scrutiny when it comes to examining these incidents. As we saw with the refusal to respond to Lieberman’s subpoena on the Fort Hood massacre and the refusal to release information about recidivism of  released Guantanamo detainees, the administration insists that we take it on faith that they are “good” and have just the right policies in place. The track record they are developing, however, suggests otherwise. In any event, that’s not how our system should work. We have another political branch of government, not to mention the American people, that deserves answers to hard questions.

It is only because Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have largely allowed the administration to avoid oversight that it has gotten away with such a dearth of transparency. That may change this November. We may then finally discover just how lucky we’ve been.

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When Watching Doesn’t Work

Daniel Foster has a good catch at The Corner: according to the New York Times profile of Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, officials of the Joint Terrorism Task Force were investigating him as early as 2004.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that any suspicions about him at that time were actionable. But that, itself, is a more profound point than even the fully justified concern about our endlessly porous no-fly list, which came within minutes this week of – once again – letting a watch-listed individual take off on an international flight.

The point driven home by the 2004 investigation is that our established measures for identifying and tracking terrorists aren’t necessarily getting the job done. We can have suspicions about subjects, investigate them, apply all the rules to them – and we can still fail to intervene before they launch an attack.

It seems obvious to me that we can’t profile every naturalized citizen from Pakistan who suffers from unemployment and foreclosure, as Shahzad did in the years after 2004. That would be a waste of time. Apparently, he and his family left their Connecticut home in December in such a rush that they took no household belongings and left food to spoil. That move could, in retrospect, be characterized as a precipitate flight from the U.S. to Pakistan. Perhaps it was worth investigating. But was Shahzad, himself, still under any kind of investigation or surveillance at that point? Local police departments are overworked; it’s doubtful that the one in Shelton, Connecticut, would have made the connection between one more abandoned foreclosure property and a naturalized citizen’s interesting ties to Pakistan.

Faisal Shahzad’s numerous trips to Pakistan should perhaps have been a clue, but there are a lot of South Asian Muslims traveling back and forth between the U.S. and Pakistan. We do a lot of business with Pakistan and have many Pakistani immigrants. Many of them travel frequently, and for innocent purposes.

It is fair to say that this is a serious problem: one that is not the consequence of partisan politics. It’s not clear how we overcome it. But there are two patterns we’ve seen this week that are utterly counterproductive. One is the tendency of government officials to pretend that perpetrators are as likely to be domestic “militia” activists as radical Islamists – and to group peaceful opponents of Obama’s policies incautiously with bomb-makers. This practice is much worse than mere divisive rhetoric. It portends a negligent misuse of law-enforcement assets.

The other pattern is the left-wing punditry’s readiness to attack the right for demanding better performance from our counterterrorism infrastructure. A theme is emerging that it was only 53 hours from the first report of the car-bomb to the arrest of Shahzad, and hey, calm down, law enforcement seems to have done a pretty good job. But what matters is that the bomb was, in fact, planted, and it could have gone off. If this sequence of events constitutes an acceptable standard of performance against terror plots, then I would amend Abe’s conclusion as follows: street vendors aren’t our first line of defense, they’re our last.

Daniel Foster has a good catch at The Corner: according to the New York Times profile of Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, officials of the Joint Terrorism Task Force were investigating him as early as 2004.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that any suspicions about him at that time were actionable. But that, itself, is a more profound point than even the fully justified concern about our endlessly porous no-fly list, which came within minutes this week of – once again – letting a watch-listed individual take off on an international flight.

The point driven home by the 2004 investigation is that our established measures for identifying and tracking terrorists aren’t necessarily getting the job done. We can have suspicions about subjects, investigate them, apply all the rules to them – and we can still fail to intervene before they launch an attack.

It seems obvious to me that we can’t profile every naturalized citizen from Pakistan who suffers from unemployment and foreclosure, as Shahzad did in the years after 2004. That would be a waste of time. Apparently, he and his family left their Connecticut home in December in such a rush that they took no household belongings and left food to spoil. That move could, in retrospect, be characterized as a precipitate flight from the U.S. to Pakistan. Perhaps it was worth investigating. But was Shahzad, himself, still under any kind of investigation or surveillance at that point? Local police departments are overworked; it’s doubtful that the one in Shelton, Connecticut, would have made the connection between one more abandoned foreclosure property and a naturalized citizen’s interesting ties to Pakistan.

Faisal Shahzad’s numerous trips to Pakistan should perhaps have been a clue, but there are a lot of South Asian Muslims traveling back and forth between the U.S. and Pakistan. We do a lot of business with Pakistan and have many Pakistani immigrants. Many of them travel frequently, and for innocent purposes.

It is fair to say that this is a serious problem: one that is not the consequence of partisan politics. It’s not clear how we overcome it. But there are two patterns we’ve seen this week that are utterly counterproductive. One is the tendency of government officials to pretend that perpetrators are as likely to be domestic “militia” activists as radical Islamists – and to group peaceful opponents of Obama’s policies incautiously with bomb-makers. This practice is much worse than mere divisive rhetoric. It portends a negligent misuse of law-enforcement assets.

The other pattern is the left-wing punditry’s readiness to attack the right for demanding better performance from our counterterrorism infrastructure. A theme is emerging that it was only 53 hours from the first report of the car-bomb to the arrest of Shahzad, and hey, calm down, law enforcement seems to have done a pretty good job. But what matters is that the bomb was, in fact, planted, and it could have gone off. If this sequence of events constitutes an acceptable standard of performance against terror plots, then I would amend Abe’s conclusion as follows: street vendors aren’t our first line of defense, they’re our last.

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The Least Transparent Administration

Among the Obama administration’s wildly inaccurate self-descriptors is that it is the most “transparent administration in history.” That is — as we have repeatedly seen in the national security  and civil rights realms– nonsense. We see it again in the Times Square jihadist attack. Even the Washington Post editors have had enough of the administration’s aversion to disclosure:

But much is still not known about the administration’s handling of this case. For example, how long was Mr. Shahzad questioned before he was read his Miranda rights? And what triggered the Justice Department’s decision to suspend the “ticking time bomb” exception in case law that gives law enforcement officers an opportunity to gather information before advising a suspect of his right to remain silent? The administration has also not publicly addressed whether it consulted with intelligence officials on the best way to deal with Mr. Shahzad. Nor has it said whether its High Value Interrogation Group (HIG) — a group of law enforcement and intelligence experts specially trained for terrorism cases — was up and running and deployed in the Shahzad case.

The administration rightly came under fire for its handling of the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian citizen who tried to ignite explosives on a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day. In that case, the Justice Department failed to adequately consult its intelligence partners and rashly embraced a law enforcement approach without fully considering other options, including holding Mr. Abdulmutallab as an enemy combatant.

As in the Fort Hood massacre, the administration resists scrutiny here. It’s odd indeed that the Obama brain trust is willing — anxious even — to give KSM a public forum to spout his jihadist propaganda (we’re not afraid, pronounces Holder) but can’t discuss its own approach to jihadist terrorists in open hearings and press conferences. Is this the usual thin-skinned irritation with critics at work? Or does the administration at some level understand how out of sync with the public is its approach to terrorists?

House and Senate Democrats have shirked their responsibility to conduct meaningful oversight. We may have to wait until one or both houses flip to Republican control before we have chairmen willing to demand documents and grill Obama officials. We hope that the lessons learned from such investigations do not come too late to prevent yet another attack on the homeland.

Among the Obama administration’s wildly inaccurate self-descriptors is that it is the most “transparent administration in history.” That is — as we have repeatedly seen in the national security  and civil rights realms– nonsense. We see it again in the Times Square jihadist attack. Even the Washington Post editors have had enough of the administration’s aversion to disclosure:

But much is still not known about the administration’s handling of this case. For example, how long was Mr. Shahzad questioned before he was read his Miranda rights? And what triggered the Justice Department’s decision to suspend the “ticking time bomb” exception in case law that gives law enforcement officers an opportunity to gather information before advising a suspect of his right to remain silent? The administration has also not publicly addressed whether it consulted with intelligence officials on the best way to deal with Mr. Shahzad. Nor has it said whether its High Value Interrogation Group (HIG) — a group of law enforcement and intelligence experts specially trained for terrorism cases — was up and running and deployed in the Shahzad case.

The administration rightly came under fire for its handling of the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian citizen who tried to ignite explosives on a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day. In that case, the Justice Department failed to adequately consult its intelligence partners and rashly embraced a law enforcement approach without fully considering other options, including holding Mr. Abdulmutallab as an enemy combatant.

As in the Fort Hood massacre, the administration resists scrutiny here. It’s odd indeed that the Obama brain trust is willing — anxious even — to give KSM a public forum to spout his jihadist propaganda (we’re not afraid, pronounces Holder) but can’t discuss its own approach to jihadist terrorists in open hearings and press conferences. Is this the usual thin-skinned irritation with critics at work? Or does the administration at some level understand how out of sync with the public is its approach to terrorists?

House and Senate Democrats have shirked their responsibility to conduct meaningful oversight. We may have to wait until one or both houses flip to Republican control before we have chairmen willing to demand documents and grill Obama officials. We hope that the lessons learned from such investigations do not come too late to prevent yet another attack on the homeland.

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RE: Grandstanding on Immigration

As I noted, the Arizona immigration bill is what comes from the confluence of federal inaction and election-year jockeying on both sides of the political aisle. Neither pro-immigration nor anti-immigration forces have the wherewithal to push through legislation, so the next best thing is to try to tempt the other side into embarrassing themselves. That’s not hard in this arena. As the Wall Street Journal‘s editors write:

Arizona’s new immigration law shows what happens when a state on the front lines of a failed immigration policy reaches the bursting point. What you get is a blunt instrument that produces lawsuits, more political polarization (if that’s possible) and the risk of hostility between the local police and the public.

The law makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. without proper documents. It allows the police to stop anyone on “reasonable suspicion” that they may be in the country unlawfully and arrest them on the spot if they can’t produce identity papers. The police aren’t required to have a search warrant or even to suspect some illegal action has occurred before questioning a person. Traditionally the federal government has enforced immigration laws, so this is an extraordinary state criminalization of a heretofore federal authority.

Democrats see an opportunity born of their own delinquency in addressing immigration. (“Congressional Democrats have no intention of enacting serious immigration reform before November. President Obama is surely playing politics with the situation in Arizona for gain in the fall. He’d like to pick a fight and define Republicans as anti-Hispanic going into the election, without having to propose anything substantive.”) So they decry the motives of their opponents and take offense at the notion that law enforcement should enforce immigration laws. Meanwhile, a segment of conservatives thinks this plays well to the base and that liberals’ overheated rhetoric makes them appear “pro-illegal immigration.” But the result is a crass political food fight in which each side’s normal concerns are swept aside. (Are conservatives really in favor of what will amount to near-unbridled discretion by police to stop suspected illegals?)

Those hoping for any semblance of real reform should take note: the alliance of those who oppose any “path to citizenship” and the relaxation of legal immigration restrictions is a classic political marriage of convenience, with Big Labor and immigration restrictionists joined at the hip to block virtually any variation of reform that might conceivably pass. And the most extreme pro-immigration forces don’t do their cause any favors by suggesting that legitimate concerns for border control are nothing more than a cover for racism. So expect the political charade to go on.

As I noted, the Arizona immigration bill is what comes from the confluence of federal inaction and election-year jockeying on both sides of the political aisle. Neither pro-immigration nor anti-immigration forces have the wherewithal to push through legislation, so the next best thing is to try to tempt the other side into embarrassing themselves. That’s not hard in this arena. As the Wall Street Journal‘s editors write:

Arizona’s new immigration law shows what happens when a state on the front lines of a failed immigration policy reaches the bursting point. What you get is a blunt instrument that produces lawsuits, more political polarization (if that’s possible) and the risk of hostility between the local police and the public.

The law makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. without proper documents. It allows the police to stop anyone on “reasonable suspicion” that they may be in the country unlawfully and arrest them on the spot if they can’t produce identity papers. The police aren’t required to have a search warrant or even to suspect some illegal action has occurred before questioning a person. Traditionally the federal government has enforced immigration laws, so this is an extraordinary state criminalization of a heretofore federal authority.

Democrats see an opportunity born of their own delinquency in addressing immigration. (“Congressional Democrats have no intention of enacting serious immigration reform before November. President Obama is surely playing politics with the situation in Arizona for gain in the fall. He’d like to pick a fight and define Republicans as anti-Hispanic going into the election, without having to propose anything substantive.”) So they decry the motives of their opponents and take offense at the notion that law enforcement should enforce immigration laws. Meanwhile, a segment of conservatives thinks this plays well to the base and that liberals’ overheated rhetoric makes them appear “pro-illegal immigration.” But the result is a crass political food fight in which each side’s normal concerns are swept aside. (Are conservatives really in favor of what will amount to near-unbridled discretion by police to stop suspected illegals?)

Those hoping for any semblance of real reform should take note: the alliance of those who oppose any “path to citizenship” and the relaxation of legal immigration restrictions is a classic political marriage of convenience, with Big Labor and immigration restrictionists joined at the hip to block virtually any variation of reform that might conceivably pass. And the most extreme pro-immigration forces don’t do their cause any favors by suggesting that legitimate concerns for border control are nothing more than a cover for racism. So expect the political charade to go on.

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What Did He Say?!

At times Obama seems to embody the worst characteristics of the Left — near comical moral equivalence, indifference to human rights, and a willingness to disregard America’s stature as the world’s leading democracy. Add in some jaw-dropping egotism and you have a scene like this:

President Obama said Sunday that the United States is still “working on” democracy and a top aide said he has taken “historic steps” to improve democracy in the United States during his time in office. The remarks came as Obama met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev — one of the U.S. president’s many meetings with world leaders ahead of this week’s nuclear summit.

Kazakhstan, which has been touting its record on combating nuclear proliferation, is a key player in the NATO supply network to Afghanistan and currently heads the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Some observers see a conflict between Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the 56-nation OSCE, which plays an important role in monitoring elections in emerging democracies, and its own widely criticized human rights record.

But if the Obama administration saw any disconnect, it kept its criticism to itself.

“In connection with the OSCE, the presidents had a very lengthy discussion of issues of democracy and human rights,” NSC senior director Mike McFaul said on a conference call with reporters Sunday. “Both presidents agreed that you don’t ever reach democracy; you always have to work at it. And in particular, President Obama reminded his Kazakh counterpart that we, too, are working to improve our democracy.” …

“You seemed to be suggesting there was some equivalence between their issues of democracy and the United States’ issues, when you said that President Obama assured him that we, too, are working on our democracy,” [Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan]Weisman said. “Is there equivalence between the problems that President Nazarbayev is confronting and the state of democracy in the United States?”

“Absolutely not. … There was no equivalence meant whatsoever,” McFaul said. “[Obama's] taken, I think, rather historic steps to improve our own democracy since coming to office here in the United States.”

This is astounding in several respects. First lumping the U.S. in with Kazakhstan has to be a new low (high) in moral obtuseness. As the report notes:

The State Department’s own 2009 human rights report on Kazakhstan reported widespread human rights violations, including severe limits on citizens’ rights to change their government; detainee and prisoner torture and other abuse; unhealthy prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of an independent judiciary; restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association; and pervasive corruption, especially in law enforcement and the judicial system.

Freedom House’s 2010 world survey declared Kazakhstan “not free” and said, “Kazakhstan holds the chairmanship of the OSCE for the year 2010 despite a record of fraudulent elections and repression of independent critics in the media and civil society — behavior that only grew worse as 2010 approached.”

The latest Human Rights Watch report on Kazakhstan was entitled, “An atmosphere of quiet repression.”

Furthermore, what has Obama done that qualifies as historic steps to improve our own democracy? I’m stumped to think of a single thing. Great transparency? Hmm. Haven’t seen that in the health-care legislative process of elsewhere. Toleration and civility for the opposition? Puhleez. Does Obama regard his own presidency as some historic leap forward for American democracy? Apparently so, a troubling sign that his narcissism continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

At times Obama seems to embody the worst characteristics of the Left — near comical moral equivalence, indifference to human rights, and a willingness to disregard America’s stature as the world’s leading democracy. Add in some jaw-dropping egotism and you have a scene like this:

President Obama said Sunday that the United States is still “working on” democracy and a top aide said he has taken “historic steps” to improve democracy in the United States during his time in office. The remarks came as Obama met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev — one of the U.S. president’s many meetings with world leaders ahead of this week’s nuclear summit.

Kazakhstan, which has been touting its record on combating nuclear proliferation, is a key player in the NATO supply network to Afghanistan and currently heads the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Some observers see a conflict between Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the 56-nation OSCE, which plays an important role in monitoring elections in emerging democracies, and its own widely criticized human rights record.

But if the Obama administration saw any disconnect, it kept its criticism to itself.

“In connection with the OSCE, the presidents had a very lengthy discussion of issues of democracy and human rights,” NSC senior director Mike McFaul said on a conference call with reporters Sunday. “Both presidents agreed that you don’t ever reach democracy; you always have to work at it. And in particular, President Obama reminded his Kazakh counterpart that we, too, are working to improve our democracy.” …

“You seemed to be suggesting there was some equivalence between their issues of democracy and the United States’ issues, when you said that President Obama assured him that we, too, are working on our democracy,” [Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan]Weisman said. “Is there equivalence between the problems that President Nazarbayev is confronting and the state of democracy in the United States?”

“Absolutely not. … There was no equivalence meant whatsoever,” McFaul said. “[Obama's] taken, I think, rather historic steps to improve our own democracy since coming to office here in the United States.”

This is astounding in several respects. First lumping the U.S. in with Kazakhstan has to be a new low (high) in moral obtuseness. As the report notes:

The State Department’s own 2009 human rights report on Kazakhstan reported widespread human rights violations, including severe limits on citizens’ rights to change their government; detainee and prisoner torture and other abuse; unhealthy prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of an independent judiciary; restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association; and pervasive corruption, especially in law enforcement and the judicial system.

Freedom House’s 2010 world survey declared Kazakhstan “not free” and said, “Kazakhstan holds the chairmanship of the OSCE for the year 2010 despite a record of fraudulent elections and repression of independent critics in the media and civil society — behavior that only grew worse as 2010 approached.”

The latest Human Rights Watch report on Kazakhstan was entitled, “An atmosphere of quiet repression.”

Furthermore, what has Obama done that qualifies as historic steps to improve our own democracy? I’m stumped to think of a single thing. Great transparency? Hmm. Haven’t seen that in the health-care legislative process of elsewhere. Toleration and civility for the opposition? Puhleez. Does Obama regard his own presidency as some historic leap forward for American democracy? Apparently so, a troubling sign that his narcissism continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

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“Eurabia” Debunked

Is Europe committing demographic and cultural suicide? Is the continent turning into “Eurabia” — a land populated primarily by Muslims? That is the case made in a series of popular books by the likes of Bernard Lewis, Mark Steyn, Tony Blankley, and Oriana Fallaci. Personally I’m skeptical. For much the same reason that I was skeptical about the prospects of a Y2K or avian-flu catastrophe: disasters that are so widely predicted seldom occur because corrective action can usually be taken in time. Justin Vaisse of the Brookings Institution, formerly a French Foreign Ministry staffer, suggests some other reasons for skepticism in this Foreign Policy article.

He points out that, while there are currently 18 million Muslims in Western Europe, or 4.5% of the population, and there will be increases in the future, “it’s hard to imagine that Europe will even reach the 10 percent mark (except in some countries or cities).” Why not? Because “fertility rates among Muslims are sharply declining as children of immigrants gradually conform to prevailing social and economic norms. Nor is immigration still a major source of newly minted European Muslims. Only about 500,000 people a year come legally to Europe from Muslim-majority countries, with an even smaller number coming illegally — meaning that the annual influx is a fraction of a percent of the European population.”

Moreover, he writes, fertility rates are actually rising in European countries: “In 2008, fertility rates in France and Ireland were more than two children per woman, close to the U.S. (and replacement) level; in Britain and Sweden they were above 1.9. And though in the 1990s European countries set an all-time record for low fertility rates, figures are now rising in all EU states except Germany.” And, no, those increasing fertility figures are not due to Muslims alone. Although Muslim migrant women have a lot of children, overall they “have a negligible impact on overall fertility rates, adding a maximum of 0.1 to any country’s average.”

Vaisse adds another reason we shouldn’t worry. He cites polling data to show that “to large majorities of Europe’s Muslims, Islam is neither an exclusive identity nor a marching order. Recent poll data from Gallup show that most European Muslims happily combine their national and religious identities, and a 2009 Harvard University working paper by Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris demonstrates that in the long term, the basic cultural values of Muslim migrants evolve to conform to the predominant culture of the European society in which they live.”

I would add another point: that continental societies have more resiliency than it may appear on the surface to Americans who caricature Europeans as effete surrender monkeys. While most European nations are not willing to engage in vigorous military action overseas (France and Britain are partial exceptions) they have shown far more ruthlessness in policing their own borders. France, in particular, as this AEI study notes, has been extremely aggressive in going after Islamist terror cells, giving their law enforcement and judicial authorities more power than in the U.S. Islamist excesses such as the killing of Theo van Gogh or the attempted murder of the Muhammad cartoonist are triggering a backlash. Europe, I predict, will not be subsumed into the umma as so many alarmists claim, based on worst-case projections.

Is Europe committing demographic and cultural suicide? Is the continent turning into “Eurabia” — a land populated primarily by Muslims? That is the case made in a series of popular books by the likes of Bernard Lewis, Mark Steyn, Tony Blankley, and Oriana Fallaci. Personally I’m skeptical. For much the same reason that I was skeptical about the prospects of a Y2K or avian-flu catastrophe: disasters that are so widely predicted seldom occur because corrective action can usually be taken in time. Justin Vaisse of the Brookings Institution, formerly a French Foreign Ministry staffer, suggests some other reasons for skepticism in this Foreign Policy article.

He points out that, while there are currently 18 million Muslims in Western Europe, or 4.5% of the population, and there will be increases in the future, “it’s hard to imagine that Europe will even reach the 10 percent mark (except in some countries or cities).” Why not? Because “fertility rates among Muslims are sharply declining as children of immigrants gradually conform to prevailing social and economic norms. Nor is immigration still a major source of newly minted European Muslims. Only about 500,000 people a year come legally to Europe from Muslim-majority countries, with an even smaller number coming illegally — meaning that the annual influx is a fraction of a percent of the European population.”

Moreover, he writes, fertility rates are actually rising in European countries: “In 2008, fertility rates in France and Ireland were more than two children per woman, close to the U.S. (and replacement) level; in Britain and Sweden they were above 1.9. And though in the 1990s European countries set an all-time record for low fertility rates, figures are now rising in all EU states except Germany.” And, no, those increasing fertility figures are not due to Muslims alone. Although Muslim migrant women have a lot of children, overall they “have a negligible impact on overall fertility rates, adding a maximum of 0.1 to any country’s average.”

Vaisse adds another reason we shouldn’t worry. He cites polling data to show that “to large majorities of Europe’s Muslims, Islam is neither an exclusive identity nor a marching order. Recent poll data from Gallup show that most European Muslims happily combine their national and religious identities, and a 2009 Harvard University working paper by Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris demonstrates that in the long term, the basic cultural values of Muslim migrants evolve to conform to the predominant culture of the European society in which they live.”

I would add another point: that continental societies have more resiliency than it may appear on the surface to Americans who caricature Europeans as effete surrender monkeys. While most European nations are not willing to engage in vigorous military action overseas (France and Britain are partial exceptions) they have shown far more ruthlessness in policing their own borders. France, in particular, as this AEI study notes, has been extremely aggressive in going after Islamist terror cells, giving their law enforcement and judicial authorities more power than in the U.S. Islamist excesses such as the killing of Theo van Gogh or the attempted murder of the Muhammad cartoonist are triggering a backlash. Europe, I predict, will not be subsumed into the umma as so many alarmists claim, based on worst-case projections.

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The Politics of Whining

Democrats are whimpering that Obama is being treated unfairly, that George W. Bush didn’t get as much criticism in handling shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and that those nasty Republicans are ganging up on the president. Really, this is sounding remarkably akin to an eight year-old who thinks his older brother was given favorable treatment by the relatives. And let me guess: the worst possible argument that Democrats could make right now is: “The media liked Bush better!”

But let’s consider why Bush was not lambasted in the same manner as Obama. Marc Thiessen explains:

The Richard Reid attack came almost immediately after 9/11, long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over to law enforcement. After that came Jose Padilla, who was arrested at the Chicago airport on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings in the United States. He was taken out of the criminal-justice system, declared an illegal enemy combatant, and transferred to the Charleston brig for interrogation.

The reason Obama is being savaged is that he and his crew appear to have learned nothing from 9/11. As Ruth Marcus put it:

The more I think about the Christmas all-but-bombing, the angrier I get. At the multiple failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get on the plane with explosives sewn in his underwear. And at the Obama administration’s initial, everything’s-fine-everybody-move-right-along reaction. . .

How can it be that screening technology is so lacking so long after the 9/11 Commission called for “priority attention” to detect explosives on passengers?

How can it be that our best line of defense seems to have been a combination of incompetence and bravery — incompetence by the attacker whose device failed to detonate properly, and bravery by passengers who acted so quickly to subdue him and put out the fire?

And how can it be, in the face of all this, that the administration’s communications strategy, cooked up on a conference call, was to assure us that officials were looking into things but in the meantime we should settle down?

(I think we can agree that when Marcus sounds like me, the Obama administration is in deep trouble.)

And there is more than the specifics of the incident or the fact that Obama had prior experiences to guide him this time around. Very clearly, Obama simply doesn’t match up favorably to his predecessor when it comes to the war on terror. Never for a moment did we doubt that Bush understood we were at war, who we were fighting, and the need to dump the criminal-justice model. We never had the sense that Bush was engaged in some grand experiment to cajole and flatter our enemies into giving up their grievances. And never did we believe the war on terror was not his top priority. Who can say that about Obama?

If Obama wants to indulge in liberal fantasies about how to “improve our image” with would-be terrorists, revert to a pre-9/11 model and give lackadaisical press conferences, so be it. But then he can’t expect to escape criticism for being . . . well . . . not George Bush.

Democrats are whimpering that Obama is being treated unfairly, that George W. Bush didn’t get as much criticism in handling shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and that those nasty Republicans are ganging up on the president. Really, this is sounding remarkably akin to an eight year-old who thinks his older brother was given favorable treatment by the relatives. And let me guess: the worst possible argument that Democrats could make right now is “The media liked Bush better!”

But let’s consider why Bush was not lambasted in the same manner as Obama. Marc Thiessen explains:

The Richard Reid attack came almost immediately after 9/11, long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over to law enforcement. After that came Jose Padilla, who was arrested at the Chicago airport on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings in the United States. He was taken out of the criminal-justice system, declared an illegal enemy combatant, and transferred to the Charleston brig for interrogation.

The reason Obama is being savaged is that he and his crew appear to have learned nothing from 9/11. As Ruth Marcus put it:

The more I think about the Christmas all-but-bombing, the angrier I get. At the multiple failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get on the plane with explosives sewn in his underwear. And at the Obama administration’s initial, everything’s-fine-everybody-move-right-along reaction. . .

How can it be that screening technology is so lacking so long after the 9/11 Commission called for “priority attention” to detect explosives on passengers?

How can it be that our best line of defense seems to have been a combination of incompetence and bravery — incompetence by the attacker whose device failed to detonate properly, and bravery by passengers who acted so quickly to subdue him and put out the fire?

And how can it be, in the face of all this, that the administration’s communications strategy, cooked up on a conference call, was to assure us that officials were looking into things but in the meantime we should settle down?

(I think we can agree that when Marcus sounds like me, the Obama administration is in deep trouble.)

And there is more than the specifics of the incident or the fact that Obama had prior experiences to guide him this time around. Very clearly, Obama simply doesn’t match up favorably to his predecessor when it comes to the war on terror. Never for a moment did we doubt that Bush understood we were at war, who we were fighting, and the need to dump the criminal-justice model. We never had the sense that Bush was engaged in some grand experiment to cajole and flatter our enemies into giving up their grievances. And never did we believe the war on terror was not his top priority. Who can say that about Obama?

If Obama wants to indulge in liberal fantasies about how to “improve our image” with would-be terrorists, revert to a pre-9/11 model and give lackadaisical press conferences, so be it. But then he can’t expect to escape criticism for being . . . well . . . not George Bush.

Democrats are whimpering that Obama is being treated unfairly, that George W. Bush didn’t get as much criticism in handling shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and that those nasty Republicans are ganging up on the president. Really, this is sounding remarkably akin to an eight year-old who thinks his older brother was given favorable treatment by the relatives. And let me guess: the worst possible argument that Democrats could make right now is: “The media liked Bush better!”

But let’s consider why Bush was not lambasted in the same manner as Obama. Marc Thiessen explains:

The Richard Reid attack came almost immediately after 9/11, long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over to law enforcement. After that came Jose Padilla, who was arrested at the Chicago airport on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings in the United States. He was taken out of the criminal-justice system, declared an illegal enemy combatant, and transferred to the Charleston brig for interrogation.

The reason Obama is being savaged is that he and his crew appear to have learned nothing from 9/11. As Ruth Marcus put it:

The more I think about the Christmas all-but-bombing, the angrier I get. At the multiple failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get on the plane with explosives sewn in his underwear. And at the Obama administration’s initial, everything’s-fine-everybody-move-right-along reaction. . .

How can it be that screening technology is so lacking so long after the 9/11 Commission called for “priority attention” to detect explosives on passengers?

How can it be that our best line of defense seems to have been a combination of incompetence and bravery — incompetence by the attacker whose device failed to detonate properly, and bravery by passengers who acted so quickly to subdue him and put out the fire?

And how can it be, in the face of all this, that the administration’s communications strategy, cooked up on a conference call, was to assure us that officials were looking into things but in the meantime we should settle down?

(I think we can agree that when Marcus sounds like me, the Obama administration is in deep trouble.)

And there is more than the specifics of the incident or the fact that Obama had prior experiences to guide him this time around. Very clearly, Obama simply doesn’t match up favorably to his predecessor when it comes to the war on terror. Never for a moment did we doubt that Bush understood we were at war, who we were fighting, and the need to dump the criminal-justice model. We never had the sense that Bush was engaged in some grand experiment to cajole and flatter our enemies into giving up their grievances. And never did we believe the war on terror was not his top priority. Who can say that about Obama?

If Obama wants to indulge in liberal fantasies about how to “improve our image” with would-be terrorists, revert to a pre-9/11 model and give lackadaisical press conferences, so be it. But then he can’t expect to escape criticism for being . . . well . . . not George Bush.

Democrats are whimpering that Obama is being treated unfairly, that George W. Bush didn’t get as much criticism in handling shoe-bomber Richard Reid, and that those nasty Republicans are ganging up on the president. Really, this is sounding remarkably akin to an eight year-old who thinks his older brother was given favorable treatment by the relatives. And let me guess: the worst possible argument that Democrats could make right now is “The media liked Bush better!”

But let’s consider why Bush was not lambasted in the same manner as Obama. Marc Thiessen explains:

The Richard Reid attack came almost immediately after 9/11, long before we figured out that we had other options than handing him over to law enforcement. After that came Jose Padilla, who was arrested at the Chicago airport on a mission from KSM to blow up apartment buildings in the United States. He was taken out of the criminal-justice system, declared an illegal enemy combatant, and transferred to the Charleston brig for interrogation.

The reason Obama is being savaged is that he and his crew appear to have learned nothing from 9/11. As Ruth Marcus put it:

The more I think about the Christmas all-but-bombing, the angrier I get. At the multiple failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get on the plane with explosives sewn in his underwear. And at the Obama administration’s initial, everything’s-fine-everybody-move-right-along reaction. . .

How can it be that screening technology is so lacking so long after the 9/11 Commission called for “priority attention” to detect explosives on passengers?

How can it be that our best line of defense seems to have been a combination of incompetence and bravery — incompetence by the attacker whose device failed to detonate properly, and bravery by passengers who acted so quickly to subdue him and put out the fire?

And how can it be, in the face of all this, that the administration’s communications strategy, cooked up on a conference call, was to assure us that officials were looking into things but in the meantime we should settle down?

(I think we can agree that when Marcus sounds like me, the Obama administration is in deep trouble.)

And there is more than the specifics of the incident or the fact that Obama had prior experiences to guide him this time around. Very clearly, Obama simply doesn’t match up favorably to his predecessor when it comes to the war on terror. Never for a moment did we doubt that Bush understood we were at war, who we were fighting, and the need to dump the criminal-justice model. We never had the sense that Bush was engaged in some grand experiment to cajole and flatter our enemies into giving up their grievances. And never did we believe the war on terror was not his top priority. Who can say that about Obama?

If Obama wants to indulge in liberal fantasies about how to “improve our image” with would-be terrorists, revert to a pre-9/11 model and give lackadaisical press conferences, so be it. But then he can’t expect to escape criticism for being . . . well . . . not George Bush.

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A Homegrown Terrorist Attack

The Senate opened hearings (minus co-operation from the administration) under the clear-eyed leadership of Sen. Joe Lieberman to look into the Fort Hood massacre. Lieberman described the slaughters as a “homegrown terrorist attack” that had been mishandled by law-enforcement and military agencies. This is a good start: at least some elected officials refuse to turn a blind eye to widely known facts.

In a similar vein, Cliff May asks how it was that everyone missed the obvious. (“Why did none of those who saw something say something? In a culture where the value of diversity trumps the requirements of security, to do so would have been career suicide. There was no way that was going to happen.”) May explains:

The lesson of Fort Hood is not that Muslims in the U.S. military are a fifth column. But neither can we continue to blithely assume that someone like Hasan — American-born, well-educated, apparently sophisticated — could never succumb to the temptations of what the politically correct call “violent extremism.”

And May decries the uninformed political correctness that refuses to acknowledge that those who are on a violent jihadist mission are not outside Islam: “Western commentators sometimes assert that Muslims who preach intolerance and belligerence are ‘heretics’ who have ‘hijacked’ a great and peaceful religion. But no Muslim authority would say that — not even those who denounce terrorism. How, after all, can a fundamentalist be a heretic? How can someone who insists on a literal reading of the Koran be accused of misrepresenting what it says?”

May also points to an uncomfortable reality:

No battles or even protests were ever staged outside the Dar al-Hijra mosque in Northern Virginia where Anwar al-Aulaqi preached a hateful and violent theology. Major Hasan was among those who worshipped with — and was inspired by — al-Aulaqi, an American-born cleric who five years ago decamped to Yemen. In recent days, al-Aulaqi has described Hasan as a “hero,” adding: The only way a Muslim could Islamically justify serving as a soldier in the U.S. army is if his intention is to follow the footsteps of men like Nidal.

Unfortunately our president is still on the political-correctness kick, and isn’t for now willing to acknowledge the nature of our enemy. Maybe the overwhelming weight of the evidence, the public’s commonsense understanding of what occurred at Fort Hood, and the persistence of Lieberman will force the administration to open its eyes — before yet another terrorist attack.

The Senate opened hearings (minus co-operation from the administration) under the clear-eyed leadership of Sen. Joe Lieberman to look into the Fort Hood massacre. Lieberman described the slaughters as a “homegrown terrorist attack” that had been mishandled by law-enforcement and military agencies. This is a good start: at least some elected officials refuse to turn a blind eye to widely known facts.

In a similar vein, Cliff May asks how it was that everyone missed the obvious. (“Why did none of those who saw something say something? In a culture where the value of diversity trumps the requirements of security, to do so would have been career suicide. There was no way that was going to happen.”) May explains:

The lesson of Fort Hood is not that Muslims in the U.S. military are a fifth column. But neither can we continue to blithely assume that someone like Hasan — American-born, well-educated, apparently sophisticated — could never succumb to the temptations of what the politically correct call “violent extremism.”

And May decries the uninformed political correctness that refuses to acknowledge that those who are on a violent jihadist mission are not outside Islam: “Western commentators sometimes assert that Muslims who preach intolerance and belligerence are ‘heretics’ who have ‘hijacked’ a great and peaceful religion. But no Muslim authority would say that — not even those who denounce terrorism. How, after all, can a fundamentalist be a heretic? How can someone who insists on a literal reading of the Koran be accused of misrepresenting what it says?”

May also points to an uncomfortable reality:

No battles or even protests were ever staged outside the Dar al-Hijra mosque in Northern Virginia where Anwar al-Aulaqi preached a hateful and violent theology. Major Hasan was among those who worshipped with — and was inspired by — al-Aulaqi, an American-born cleric who five years ago decamped to Yemen. In recent days, al-Aulaqi has described Hasan as a “hero,” adding: The only way a Muslim could Islamically justify serving as a soldier in the U.S. army is if his intention is to follow the footsteps of men like Nidal.

Unfortunately our president is still on the political-correctness kick, and isn’t for now willing to acknowledge the nature of our enemy. Maybe the overwhelming weight of the evidence, the public’s commonsense understanding of what occurred at Fort Hood, and the persistence of Lieberman will force the administration to open its eyes — before yet another terrorist attack.

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Islamist Feminism

Consider the ways in which exposure to Western values could transform Europe’s Muslim community. Seeing the everyday fruits of democracy might foster an appreciation for consensual government, perhaps. Or rubbing up against neighborly folks of varying backgrounds might, over time, serve to break xenophobic habits of mind.

Or, on the other hand, witnessing female contributions to liberal societies might pave the way for women looking to take a more active role in jihad.

There’s a story in today’s New York Times about Malika El Aroud, the Gloria Steinem of al Qaeda. El Aroud, widow of an Afghanistan suicide bomber, is a prominent “internet jihadist.” She and her second husband (martyr’s widows are like supermodels in these circles) were convicted of running pro-al Qaeda websites, so–EU borders and law enforcement being what they are–she hopped over to Brussels, where she now blogs about killing infidels. Here’s the Times:

The changing role of women in the movement is particularly apparent in Western countries, where Muslim women have been educated to demand their rights and Muslim men are more accustomed to treating them as equals.

Ms. El Aroud reflects that trend. “Normally in Islam the men are stronger than the women, but I prove that it is important to fear God – and no one else,” she said. “It is important that I am a woman. There are men who don’t want to speak out because they are afraid of getting into trouble. Even when I get into trouble, I speak out.”

What trouble? This is Europe, where you’re simultaneously a terror suspect and a welfare recipient.

Now, even as Ms. El Aroud remains under constant surveillance, she is back home rallying militants on her main Internet forum and collecting more than $1,100 a month in government unemployment benefits.

The Times quotes an El Aroud supporter as saying, “Malika is a source of inspiration for women because she is telling women to stop sleeping and open their eyes.” Who will tell Europe to do the same?

Consider the ways in which exposure to Western values could transform Europe’s Muslim community. Seeing the everyday fruits of democracy might foster an appreciation for consensual government, perhaps. Or rubbing up against neighborly folks of varying backgrounds might, over time, serve to break xenophobic habits of mind.

Or, on the other hand, witnessing female contributions to liberal societies might pave the way for women looking to take a more active role in jihad.

There’s a story in today’s New York Times about Malika El Aroud, the Gloria Steinem of al Qaeda. El Aroud, widow of an Afghanistan suicide bomber, is a prominent “internet jihadist.” She and her second husband (martyr’s widows are like supermodels in these circles) were convicted of running pro-al Qaeda websites, so–EU borders and law enforcement being what they are–she hopped over to Brussels, where she now blogs about killing infidels. Here’s the Times:

The changing role of women in the movement is particularly apparent in Western countries, where Muslim women have been educated to demand their rights and Muslim men are more accustomed to treating them as equals.

Ms. El Aroud reflects that trend. “Normally in Islam the men are stronger than the women, but I prove that it is important to fear God – and no one else,” she said. “It is important that I am a woman. There are men who don’t want to speak out because they are afraid of getting into trouble. Even when I get into trouble, I speak out.”

What trouble? This is Europe, where you’re simultaneously a terror suspect and a welfare recipient.

Now, even as Ms. El Aroud remains under constant surveillance, she is back home rallying militants on her main Internet forum and collecting more than $1,100 a month in government unemployment benefits.

The Times quotes an El Aroud supporter as saying, “Malika is a source of inspiration for women because she is telling women to stop sleeping and open their eyes.” Who will tell Europe to do the same?

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McCain’s Triumph Today

What John McCain delivered at the Conservative Political Action Conference was a nearly perfect political speech in a nearly perfect setting. The rhetorical dynamic was to present McCain as an “imperfect servant” — first of his party and then of his country. This had the effect, first, of creating a mood of rueful modesty, which are the necessary critical grace notes for any speaker trying to make a case before a partly hostile audience. Any hostility shown him by the audience — and there was some — seemed unreasonable and ugly-spirited given the outstretched hand of the speaker.

The purpose of the speech was for McCain to make the case that he is a conservative, and indeed, it was a speech rooted in conservative philosophy, featuring two (count-’em) quotes from Burke on the nature of liberty and the threats to it. But he did far more. He outlined the substance of his campaign against the Democratic nominee, whichever of the two it might be, as a consequential contest:

Often elections in this country are fought within the margins of small differences. This one will not be. We are arguing about hugely consequential things. Whomever the Democrats nominate, they would govern this country in a way that will, in my opinion, take this country backward to the days when government felt empowered to take from us our freedom to decide for ourselves the course and quality of our lives; to substitute the muddled judgment of large and expanding federal bureaucracies for the common sense and values of the American people; to the timidity and wishful thinking of a time when we averted our eyes from terrible threats to our security that were so plainly gathering strength abroad. It is shameful and dangerous that Senate Democrats are blocking an extension of surveillance powers that enable our intelligence and law enforcement to defend our country against radical Islamic extremists. This election is going to be about big things, not small things. And I intend to fight as hard as I can to ensure that our principles prevail over theirs.

No candidate in this race could have made the case against the Democrats so plainly, or presented the choice in November in terms more direct and clear. McCain may not have been Barack Obama, summoning his flock to the mountaintop for a hope-in, but this was catnip for conservative Republicans. He began in a mild spirit of abashment, moved to conciliation, then to polemic, and concluded with high patriotism:

You have heard me say before that for all my reputation as a maverick, I have only found true happiness in serving a cause greater than my self-interest. For me, that cause has always been our country, and the ideals that have made us great. I have been her imperfect servant for many years, and I have made many mistakes. You can attest to that, but need not. For I know them well myself. But I love her deeply and I will never, never tire of the honor of serving her.

If he can do half as well at the Republican Convention in August, McCain will prove himself as formidable a foe as the Democrats could fear and as Republicans could wish for.

What John McCain delivered at the Conservative Political Action Conference was a nearly perfect political speech in a nearly perfect setting. The rhetorical dynamic was to present McCain as an “imperfect servant” — first of his party and then of his country. This had the effect, first, of creating a mood of rueful modesty, which are the necessary critical grace notes for any speaker trying to make a case before a partly hostile audience. Any hostility shown him by the audience — and there was some — seemed unreasonable and ugly-spirited given the outstretched hand of the speaker.

The purpose of the speech was for McCain to make the case that he is a conservative, and indeed, it was a speech rooted in conservative philosophy, featuring two (count-’em) quotes from Burke on the nature of liberty and the threats to it. But he did far more. He outlined the substance of his campaign against the Democratic nominee, whichever of the two it might be, as a consequential contest:

Often elections in this country are fought within the margins of small differences. This one will not be. We are arguing about hugely consequential things. Whomever the Democrats nominate, they would govern this country in a way that will, in my opinion, take this country backward to the days when government felt empowered to take from us our freedom to decide for ourselves the course and quality of our lives; to substitute the muddled judgment of large and expanding federal bureaucracies for the common sense and values of the American people; to the timidity and wishful thinking of a time when we averted our eyes from terrible threats to our security that were so plainly gathering strength abroad. It is shameful and dangerous that Senate Democrats are blocking an extension of surveillance powers that enable our intelligence and law enforcement to defend our country against radical Islamic extremists. This election is going to be about big things, not small things. And I intend to fight as hard as I can to ensure that our principles prevail over theirs.

No candidate in this race could have made the case against the Democrats so plainly, or presented the choice in November in terms more direct and clear. McCain may not have been Barack Obama, summoning his flock to the mountaintop for a hope-in, but this was catnip for conservative Republicans. He began in a mild spirit of abashment, moved to conciliation, then to polemic, and concluded with high patriotism:

You have heard me say before that for all my reputation as a maverick, I have only found true happiness in serving a cause greater than my self-interest. For me, that cause has always been our country, and the ideals that have made us great. I have been her imperfect servant for many years, and I have made many mistakes. You can attest to that, but need not. For I know them well myself. But I love her deeply and I will never, never tire of the honor of serving her.

If he can do half as well at the Republican Convention in August, McCain will prove himself as formidable a foe as the Democrats could fear and as Republicans could wish for.

Read Less




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